There always seems to be uncertainty surrounding the difference between leadership and management. Are leaders and managers different, and if so, how? The truth is, it’s a moot point. Success as a manager at any level in the organization requires some form of leadership. Without access to that skill set, managers simply cannot succeed.
The Literature is Incomplete and No Clear Standard Terminology Exists
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Part of the challenge in clarifying differences between leaders and managers comes from the fact that leadership means different things to different people, and no clear standard exists. In fact, the management sciences literature does not have a commonly accepted, standard definition. As a result, people use the terms interchangeably, assuming others think as they do.
Most modern definitions of leadership are circular, identifying leaders as individuals with the capabilities to lead or direct a group. The management sciences literature focuses on the ability of an individual to inspire others to do something. Interestingly, the literature is ripe when it comes to discussing the importance of leadership and how it’s critical for organizational success.
Nevertheless, when it comes to measuring what it means to lead, the conversation inevitably turns to personality traits – having charisma, inspiring others, being personable; the basic qualities anyone would list off when asked what makes a good leader. In direct contrast to leadership, there is also plenty of literature around what it means to be a manager. Much has been written about what specifically needs to be done and the types of activities managers engage in. In terms of an overall definition that answers the key question of what it truly means to lead, however, and how that differs from managing, there is not one that I am satisfied with.
In this respect I have been very impressed with the writings of Henry Mintzberg, a professor in McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management, who has studied and written about managers and managing extensively. He is quoted as saying: “Managers who don’t lead are quite discouraging, but leaders who don’t manage don’t know what’s going on. It’s a phoney separation that people are making between the two.”
Demonstrating Leadership at Every Level is Key
Leadership is needed at every level in an organization. Managerial skills are essential for an organization to run smoothly, yet part of that skill set involves displaying leadership.
A front line manager must demonstrate certain aspects of leadership to inspire his crew to do the work that needs to be done, whether it’s fostering collaboration, or encouraging teamwork. Individual managers, at every level in an organization, will be faced with the challenge of when to differentiate their management skills from their leadership skills.
The CEO, for example, needs to demonstrate leadership to not only her or his team, but also to the entire company. Given the nature of the organization, there may even be some component of leadership that needs to be displayed with respect to the community at large. In fact, even employees who are not managers need to be able to demonstrate aspects of leadership for success in their work.
The “Magic” of a Successful Organization: Those Who Manage, Lead and Those Who Lead, Manage
In life, you can be a leader and not have managerial skill. In fact, there are many examples of leaders who make real, lasting change in the world because they possess the qualities we believe makes a true leader. These individuals are successful because they demonstrate a passion and live their lives consistently with that passion, so much so that other people chose to follow their example.
However, in an organization, successful leaders must also have management skills. Sure, it might be possible for a leader lacking these skills to hire someone to do the management work, but for general success and how the magic happens – all leaders must have management skills, and those who lead, manage and those who manage, lead. Leadership is a necessary part of each manager’s job, and the challenge is in thinking through and identifying the distinct leadership traits that need to be demonstrated for success.