Leadership AND Management


A colleague of mine at London Business School likes to ask MBA students if they are keen to become managers. The response is usually mixed, with some students saying yes and the majority giving negative reactions to the whole concept of management – “That’s all about telling people what to do,” being a common response. He then asks if they want to become leaders and they almost unanimously declare that they do. Why is there such a polarised response to these questions?

I often ask executives at the beginning of a leadership programme to discuss two questions, originally posed by Jay Congar:

“During moments of the day when you are in the activity of managing, what are you doing?

During moments of the day when you are in the activity of leading, what are you doing?”

I’ve noticed an interesting and, in my view, worrying trend in how people answer these questions. They often put rather negative-sounding activities under the management umbrella and the more ‘sexy’, exciting activities under leadership. For example, under leadership activity, the words “motivating others” often come up. I’ve been around a few years and can remember when even the most basic management development programme had a section on how to motivate people, which usually referred back to our old friends Hertzberg and Maslow. I’m not making a semantic point – in one sense it’s irrelevant which heading it appears under – but my concern is that management skills are being perceived as inferior to leadership skills.

This is a grave error, the negative outcome of which is that I often find bright young individuals with lots of potential on an intensive 360-driven leadership development programme, when they have yet to master the basic and critically-important management skills that will make their life a lot easier as leaders.

So my key message is this: let’s value both – as with much in this life, it should be a case of ‘and’, not ‘or’.

Here are four management skills that are absolutely essential for any successful executive:

-      Chairing meetings

-      Setting objectives

-      Delegation

-      Delivering feedback

The good news is that these skills are easily learnt, so it is all the more puzzling to me that, even in world-class businesses, so many managers have not mastered one or more of these. They provide a really useful foundation for executives to then focus on the more challenging leadership agenda. For a quick how-to guide on these skills, follow the links:

There is a more pressing question though: is it possible to have organisations that are both well managed and well led? It’s not easy. In large, well-managed companies, there are often so many processes and systems in place that leadership is driven out. In contrast, as Nigel Nicholson points out in his new book The I of Leadership, family-owned businesses are often strong on leadership and weak on management. But I know brilliant managers in large companies who are equally excellent leaders, and I know individuals in family-run businesses who succeed at being both good leaders and accomplished managers. So it is possible to do both. In fact it’s not just possible, but desirable.

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