And from the realm of eternal questions and vexing conundrums that flourish in nearly every human endeavor that requires production and control, I give you “Management v. Leadership”: Aren’t they the same thing?
If you’ve ever worked in an HR department, ANY HR department, it’s crossed your mind at least 20 times a day, through the endless travails of saving people from themselves (and each other) and around 150 times a day during performance evaluation season. More often than not, the question arises out of a need for validation and qualification. “Is this person management material?” or “Is this person a leader?” We’ve all been there.
Why all the confusion? Are not all managers leaders? Are not all leaders, managers? In my humble opinion, the answers are “sort of, but not really” and, uh…“ sort of, but not really” Oh, you were expecting cut and dry answers? Ah. Well (if we’ve learned nothing else), as with all things people related, there almost never are cut and dry answers. But just between us, would any of it be any fun without these highbrow ideas to ponder on your way to and from meeting after meeting after meeting with hiring managers searching for…wow. What IS it these people want? And would it kill them to fill out a simple job requisition completely? Apologies, I digress. Mid-career flashbacks. Pay no attention.
Well, since it’s on the docket, let’s deign to define with some historical perspectives on both. The study of leadership goes back to Aristotle, and the study of management, only to the early 20th century. The latter by way of the nascence of industrialization and the paradigm defining need to control resources and by default, people. Henri Fayol, French industrialist and an engineer by trade, published his practical ideas on, and philosophical underpinnings for management as a science, having begun to write on the subject in the late 1800’s. It would become his life’s work, even as he was by day, a captain of industry. If he sounds an awful lot like a superhero (business AND academia?!), you really should check him out. He published his seminal works around the same time as Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management. These writings found their inspiration in the many burning questions of the day like “How can I get these people to do stuff they really don’t want to do and FASTER?” and “Why can’t they be more like the actual machines I pay them slave wages to run?” or “Safety? What do you mean, safety?”. Wondrous times to be alive and working, to be sure.
In any case, Fayol set forth the foundational concepts on the subject of management found in business school textbooks to this day. Of particular note, are the (albeit heavily distilled) bullet points which are 1. Planning, 2. Organizing, 3. Coordinating, 4. Controlling and 5. Commanding. Now, these are absolutely mission critical functions of management whether you are a manager at the local grocery store chain or CIO at a multinational software security corporation in the high-rise suite. So, the lucky gal or guy in charge of planning, organizing, coordinating, controlling and commanding their teams’ daily odysseys through the salt mines has a day filled with tasks that create functions that keep the place from taking in revenue through the front door and spitting profits out the back door.
Management, then, is indispensable in one form or another to human enterprise. It creates order and stability; structure and alignment. It is very much a science. People from practically every walk of life aspire to become better managers within their professions and fields of work. And that can certainly be done. There are seemingly endless resources available to these brave souls in the business publishing industry every year. Some find their journey leads them to work towards earning advanced degrees. They study project, time and personnel management in search of the Rosetta stone for managing people, processes, and resources.
Intellectual curiosity and hard work can aid you in your quest if such is your vocation. You’ll come to understand logistical processes, purchasing, procurement, sales and most importantly, metrics. Once you begin to retune your worldview to focus on that which is measurable and replicable, your understanding and individual approach to management will flourish. Human beings are remarkably resourceful when they understand how systems work and how to work within them. There is an entire discipline of study known as “systems thinking” pioneered by Dr. Peter Senge that owes its existence to that very premise.
So, why/how do we confuse management with leadership? It may be the natural implication of authority in these words themselves. It may also be that leadership itself has more to do with the intangibilities of people in positions of power and influence. Leadership deals with inspiration, vision, change and movement. Leadership (at its best) energizes and empowers people to do what they wouldn’t necessarily believe that they could do in its absence.
It inspires belief in things larger than ourselves. It creates coalitions and communicates values. If one were so inclined as to take upon oneself the quest to become a “better leader,” I would advise you take note of these aspects of leadership and study what motivates people. Explore those things that drive human performance. There is no more powerful a force as that which moves people to do what they do. Additionally, effective communication within organizations is a fascinating area of study. You’d be surprised at the number of ways you unconsciously encode and decode messages to and from your co-workers on any given day. Fun stuff.
I would argue that the difference is also in that seemingly indefinable quality inherent in the idea of a leader her/himself. Leadership is about influence. And influence is multi-directional. It’s not a unidirectional, transactional relationship between manager and subordinate. Leadership spreads throughout an organization. It changes cultures. Miles Davis is known for being perhaps the greatest jazz trumpeter of all time, but his talents as a band leader are what made the music (through the accompanying musicians he led) swing with him. He did it by example (and certainly with the appropriately stern “pep talk”), but more than anything else, he inspired his bandmates to see his inspiration. Jazz not your thing? The same phenomenon rings in the musical stylings of James Brown, Prince and even Bruce Springsteen. These are all sublimely talented musicians, but it was their indisputable ability to communicate their vision to their bands that made the magic. That’s the power of leadership. Pretty cool, huh?
On that score, where would even the greatest leaders in history be without the ability to communicate their vision to their fellow citizens? Products don’t sell themselves (as much as some would have you believe that). And neither do ideas. If we were to use an organization’s Policies and Procedures Manual as an example, management enforces the practicalities of its contents. Leadership reads you the mission statement and has you asking “when do I start?”
As one might guess, there are different types of leaders, which find their roots in the Lewinian studies of the last century as well. Today’s studies have expanded and expounded upon his work, but the family tree truly does begin with the Authoritarian, Democratic and Laissez-Faire archetypes. From these three, many derivative leadership personalities spring. Facilitators, Resourceful Leaders, Visionary Leaders, they are myriad. And, there truly are leadership types that fit different industries, assignments, and scenarios better than others. The trick (and isn’t there always a trick?) is placing her/him in the right place at the right time. Fortunately, through behavioral assessment as part of a well-crafted, multi-faceted pre-employment/promotional process, we can make educated decisions when recruiting, qualifying and placing talent in leadership positions. Because a visionary leader, a true change agent, can make all the difference between fighting on or folding; between rewriting the rules of the game or revising your resume and moving on.
And just when you feel you’ve got at least a working understanding of the differences between management and leadership, along comes vexing curveball number two, from your friendly neighborhood hiring manager:
“Can leadership be taught or are people just born leaders?”
And THAT is yet another meeting over a yet another strong cup of coffee.