Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?

Do organizations need fewer managers and more leaders? Do the qualities of one outweigh those of the other? In this article, Esther Derby defines leadership and management, and shows how one test manager incorporates both.

In a recent discussion on the state of a software company, a programmer declared, "We don't need managers around here, we need leaders!"

I'm always puzzled by statements like this.

"How do you see the difference between management and leadership?" I asked.

"Managers do things right, and leaders do the right thing," the programmer replied, repeating a Warren Bennis quote.

"But what do they do differently?" I pressed.

"Managers manage, and leaders lead," the programmer replied with conviction.

Here's how leadership professor John Kotter describes the difference between management and leadership (which I paraphrase here):

Management is:

  • establishing timetables and steps for achieving needed results and allocating resources to make it happen
  • creating structure, staffing and delegating responsibility, and having the authority to accomplish goals
  • monitoring results, identifying deviations, and planning and organizing to solve problems
  • producing key results expected by various stakeholders

Leadership is:

  • establishing direction, and developing a vision for the future
  • aligning people, modeling the vision, influencing, and creating teams and coalitions
  • inspiring people to overcome barriers to change by satisfying basic human needs
  • producing useful change

Reading these lists, it's clear to me that organizations need both.

Here's an example. A test manager takes a job with a new testing group. He talks with his team, his manager, and the internal and external customers for his unit's work. Based on what he hears, he articulates a mission for the group: "We provide assessments of product quality and help product owners understand risks." That's leadership—setting a direction.

He works with the team to identify all the work they're currently doing, work that's in queue, and projects scheduled for the next several months. Together, they assess what they can accomplish, what they won't do, and whether they have the right mix of skills to do the work. That's management.

He supports the team as it self-organizes to accomplish the work. The organizing part is management (done by the team), while supporting self-organization is leadership—meeting human needs for autonomy.

The test manager works with the team to identify the resources they need—machines, tools, and training—and then adjusts the budget to acquire the necessary resources. That's management.

He's showing leadership when he meets with members of the team to understand their aspirations and help them articulate professional development goals. When they work together to build skills into daily work, that's management.

As the team works to test its products, the manager and the team work together to develop metrics and dash boards that show test progress and communicate the quality of the product—management again.

He makes sure the development manager and product owner define release criteria, leading through influence. He also brings change to the way the company makes ship decisions. When a testing project starts slipping, he pulls the team together to assess the issues and replan their approach—management, according to Kotter's definition.

And so it goes—a little management here, some leadership there. The balance shifts, depending on the situation. The test manager combines management and leadership activities to attend to people and accomplish meaningful work.

I've worked with people who were all leadership. When they lacked management behaviors—follow-through and attention to practical implementation—they left chaos in their wakes (and didn't actually produce much useful change). I've also worked with people who were mostly management, which only worked when they had enough personal warmth to navigate human relationships. (In accounting areas, you don't necessarily want creative ideas or big charisma—think Enron.)

Viewing leadership and management as dichotomous sets up a false choice. Most positions in organizations need both, and that's what effective managers deliver.

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