There are fundamental differences between leadership and management that apply to any organization. This is especially pertinent regarding leading organizational change, and how the winning combination of great management and strategic leadership takes an organization to a new level. Many people think leadership and management are interchangeable terms, versions of the same concept. John Kotter, a leadership professor at Harvard makes the following distinction, “Management is a set of processes that keep an organization functioning. They make it work today-they make it hit the quarter’s numbers”. Leadership is different, “It is about aligning people to the vision that means buy-in communication, motivation, and inspiration”. There are rare people that are both managers and leaders, and in a healthy organization managers and leaders reinforce each other to excel.
There are contrasts between attitudes of leaders and managers. Leaders are proactive while managers are reactive. A leader is future focused anticipating the challenges ahead and increasing profits. The leader’s role is facilitating change with the long-term vision on the horizon. The leader’s charm appeals to the heart of the employees. She takes risk and breaks the rules to shape the internal culture and external face of the organization. It is a role that is dynamic and visionary. On the other hand, a manager has a short-term vision that minimizes risk and makes the rules. He rules with the head enforcing the status quo. The focus is on managing work. A manager gives out instructions and reacts accordingly whether things go right or wrong. While a leader has followers, a manager has subordinates. A manager might have a team of 5-10 employees that reports to him. He will react to the situations of the subordinates, and his influence will be limited to the team. Whereas, a leader transcends team boundaries and has members across the organization come to her for advice. In organization, having a reputation as an idea person who acts decisively is a precious asset. Leaders create key performance indicators and nurture their employees to improve.
A manager could shift responsibility in some instances, while a leader takes responsibility. A manager can be done delegating his tasks and go home at the end of the day. A leader’s work is never done, she is constantly pitching and thinking of ways to improve the organization. At the end of the day, a leader has to call the shots when the going gets tough. Whether letting someone go or having to work longer hours on a project, a leader will rise to the occasion. A denominator for the leader and the manager is the focus on doing the right thing for the organization.
The role of leadership has been glorified in the media. There is a perception of the “hero leader” like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk that has a cult like influence and dazzling results. This image creates misconceptions about the definition of leadership. Education can dispel the myth and prepare people to step into leadership roles in organizations. Mentoring and formal training can help employees make the most of leadership skills with studies finding that as many 90 percent of people found this training to be helpful in their performance at work.
When an organization has defined and evolved leadership and management roles, it eases the facilitation of organizational transformation. It begins with defining the vision which is authentic and simple, has a shared sense of purpose, and is aligned with the leadership’s team mission for organization. The leadership must get the organization’s buy in on the vision and that starts from the top and trickles down through the ranks. The leader will keep the team motivated and inspired through the process. A core competency of a leader is to plan for quick wins which will boost morale and momentum. From the management side, they step in to make sure the vision gets executed with tangible goals and milestones to stay on track. They ensure that the quick wins actually happen. Management handle the less exciting part of the transformation process with responsibility for organizing, budgeting, and staffing. The new behaviors have been defined by the vision but it’s up to management to integrate them into the organization. The management will maintain control and circumvent obstacles. The ability to act accordingly during crises goes a long way in ensuring that the leadership continues to work towards the winning vision.
Change is messy and never perfect. There are hard and soft costs that are implicit in any organizational transformation. A flawed, poor vision with great management will yield a lot of work without strategic payoffs. And a grand vision with weak management will not get off the ground, perpetually frustrating the organization. The magic happens when visionary leadership meets strong management and the organization is able to transcend into new territory. However, for that powerful combination to happen there needs to be a clear understanding of the difference between leadership and management in an organization. The role of leadership has been glorified in the media, and there is a lot of confusion on what truly constitutes great leadership. If that cultural barrier can be traversed then an organization will benefit from the compelling, strategic vision of a capable leader. A leader who sees the best in her followers and takes risks to bring the organization to new heights. The leadership that has strong management support will be unstoppable. The management executing, controlling, and shaping the new behaviors that need to take place. Both are integral positions, and when there is still confusion about the separation between leadership and management, an organization will struggle to rise to greatness.