Leadership. The promised land.  Management.  The waste land.  Leadership is the Starbucks soy macchiato with extra whip to management’s coffee black in a World’s Greatest Dad mug. You get the picture.  For decades, the debate distinguishing leadership and management has filled the pages of the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review.  The great business minds have separated and differentiated between the personal characteristics and skills of leaders and managers.  So, where does the great debate stand today?

Well, we are going to take a stab at answering that question.  First, let’s start with an activity. Grab a piece of paper and draw a table with two rows and two columns on the front.  Write leader in the top left hand box and manager in the top right hand box.  You see where we are going?  Now, according to Warren Bennis (1989), the list then goes as follows:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager’s eye is always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we lived in a world of tables and categories?  It would be so organized and precise and clean.  But, that is not our world.  We no longer live, work, and play in a world of silos when it comes to leading and managing people. People, especially those with influence, should not be siloed into categories of leader and manager.  We are now held to standards beyond those of the title in front of or behind our names.  Business standards now put the person in front of the title.  Companies are shifting focus from the bottom line to high priority relationships.  The business world demands adaptable, multi-dimensional, purpose-driven employees capable of influencing and following effectively. Companies are greedy in the sense they desire employees who can do it all—not just lead and not just manage, but are capable of both simultaneously.  

And besides, who has the authority to put one in the category of leader and another in the category of manager?  The greater question is how one perceives himself or herself. Managers need to know how to lead and leaders need to know how to manage.  And if one cannot do the other, then self-awareness should prevail and leaders should surround themselves with management skilled individuals and managers surround themselves with leadership skilled individuals.  And if self-awareness is not in the room, then that is another conversation altogether.  No one can lead or manage effectively without self-awareness.  We can no longer survive, yet alone succeed, by just doing some of what is required.   Here are a few examples:

  • Job descriptions are getting longer as more start-ups, small businesses, and non-profits often find themselves with staffs of one to four employees.  
  • Business leaders want entry level staffers to exhibit the organization of a manager with the self-initiative and problem-solving skills of a leader.
  • Presidents and CEOs are expected to create and share the company’s vision while also making ethical decisions and maintaining a financially sustaining business structure.  

Abraham Zalesnik (2004) wrote, "There is a deeper issue in the relationship between the need for competent managers and the longing for great leaders. What it takes to ensure a supply of people who will assume practical responsibility may inhibit the development of great leaders. On the other hand, the presence of great leaders may undermine the development of managers who typically become very anxious in the relative disorder that leaders seem to generate.”

We lead busy lives.  And we are just making it harder on ourselves, wasting energy and time by separating the two and dividing jobs, skills, and characteristics into categories.  Labels do not yield results.  People yield results.  There is one question:  are you a person with influence? Great.  Lead with it.  Manage with it.  Do something with it.  Pursue greatness with an evolving self-awareness, fierce authenticity, and your essential skill set from whatever seat or title you currently hold.     

Bio: Janna Magette serves as the Executive Director of Girls Place, Inc.  She has a Ph.D. in Leadership Development from the University of Florida.  

Bennis, W. (1989). Why leaders can't lead (pp. 118-120). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Zaleznik, A. (2004). Managers and leaders. Harvard Business Review, 1.

Leader vs. Manager