The Strategist

Leaders vs. Managers: Which one are you?

07/04/2022 - 11:19

Many people still believe that "leadership" and "management" are inherent to certain positions. Research tells us that this is not the case. In the context of a modern organization’s structure, which is more than a century old, this means that leadership is handled by a few people at the top of the hierarchy, and the large group in the middle is responsible for management. In many ways, such perceptions are correct: this is why the concept still exists. But the reality of organizations thriving in a rapidly changing world increasingly looks different.

To be a leader is to set a direction, formulate an image of the future, rally people around this image and give them motivation and inspiration for further action. Leadership mobilizes people, helping them to overcome significant barriers, to go through changes despite all the difficulties, and in some cases - to achieve truly amazing results.

Now, let’s contrast leadership with management. The latter is best defined as a set of structures, rules and actions that enable systems of people and technology to work reliably and effectively despite the size of the structure, geographic distribution and other complicating factors.

One of the reasons corporations, governments, and other organizations have difficulty is that they often confuse management and leadership without realizing the difference between the two.

Management is often referred to as leadership, especially if it is done by people close to the top of the hierarchy.

Most modern organizations erect barriers to leadership at lower levels, and when someone still manages to show leader’s qualities, they usually get another name: initiative, good management, high potential. But the definition of what leadership is in terms of behavior and achievement becomes quite clear if one reads biographies of people whom historians have unanimously classified as great leaders.

There is a clear pattern to their actions: these people either lived in turbulent times and played a critical role in inspiring and motivating others to adapt and win, or they created the turbulent times themselves by proposing an image of a better future and then inspiring and motivating others to bring that image to life.

In both cases, the changes they brought about are so significant and the results are so good that they are remembered even centuries later.

Studies of bright leaders give us a lot to learn about how to deal with change these days.

The best leaders created a halo of urgency around opportunity. They communicated their message to the masses, and many believed they, too, could benefit from the opportunities. They won hearts and minds with strategy and passion. They inspired a multitude of people to take coordinated action against various organizational and human barriers, fountaining positive energy and naming opportunities.

They made sure that successes happened quickly and often, and celebrated them widely, sustaining the overall excitement. And they also understood that maintaining a sense of urgency and a level of energy was necessary until the initiatives were successfully completed.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that great leaders avoided common pitfalls and mobilized others to action, not on an ad hoc basis, not once, but constantly, repeatedly, often over many years. The latest research shows that this is exactly what organizations need in this new era of speed, complexity, and instability: action, taken not once every ten years, but constantly.

based on “Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times” by John Kotter