Saturday, August 14, 2010

Management or Leadership

This week there was a great post in Harvard Business Review by Robert Sutton entitled “True Leaders Are Also Managers”. This is an age old discussion – what the role is of a CEO vs. President or manager vs. leader. The article includes these comments:

“In my reviews of the writings and research, I kept bumping into an old and popular distinction that has always bugged me: leading versus managing. The brilliant and charming Warren Bennis has likely done more to popularize this distinction than anyone else. He wrote in "Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader" that "There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial." And in one of his most famous lines, he added, "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing."”

Sutton continues with these words: “Although this distinction is more or less correct, and is useful to a degree, it has unintended negative effects on how some leaders view and do their work. Some leaders now see their job as just coming up with big and vague ideas, and they treat implementing them, or even engaging in conversation and planning about the details of them, as mere "management" work.

Worse still, this distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve. "Big picture only" leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway.”

He is right on the money. There has to be balance between the two. Robert Sutton goes on to close with these words: “I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management. Meanwhile, the worst use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies. Therefore, harking back to the Bennis theorem I quoted above, let me propose a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done. When we glorify leadership too much, and management too little, there is great risk of failing to act on this obvious but powerful message”.

So when we boil down the whole leadership versus management debate – there are a few things that need to be considered:
1. Every company needs someone focused on doing both. There must be someone serving the role of CEO (big picture thinker) and someone filling the role of President/GM (get it executed)
2. These are not mutually exclusive nor do they have to be at odds with each other
3. It is difficult for one person to effectively do both roles consistently
4. Much of the success that can happen when done right centers around effective communication between the roles and with the entire team
5. Execution is still the only thing that truly matters – big pictures that are not executed are just hallucination!

So the guidance is clear. Make sure your company is practicing both roles. Balance them through continual open communication. Lead by assuring execution so you don’t spend your time spinning your wheels and hallucinating about what could be and should be. Determine the course and just get er done!

1 comment:

theritzman said...


Excellent, point that I'm thinking about a lot in the context of HTG and my business.

I think that size / scale is important, too. The eMyth challenges us to work on the business not just in the business. That may be as much oversimplified for many of our businesses as leadership vs. management.

A billion dollar enterprise may require a pure CEO visionary type leader. Many of us must both lead and manage our HTG small businesses. We must also work both on and in the business.

It looks like both not either / or. It looks like execution at a higher level.

Mike Ritsema
i3 Business Solutions, LLC