Friday, May 16, 2008

Leadership vs. Management

I have been following the seven part series on Leadership Turn that discusses the difference between a leader and a manager. Most of this dialogue is taken from the book Learning to Lead and other books by Warren Bennis. The thing that bothers me about this discussion is the comparison with a manager. Why make this comparison? A manager is not a leader by default, but it is easy to make that assumption. (The point of the article IS to make that distinction, but I think it furthers that mythology of manager as leader or hopes to have the manager think like a leader.)

Anyone can be a leader; a manager is a job description. Often there is discussion on who is a leader? What is a leader? The reality is, anyone can be a leader. A leader must simply influence others to do something. If you write something and someone is influenced to do something, then you are a leader. If you give a presentation or talk, and it influenced someone to do something, you are a leader. Many librarian bloggers are leaders because they inspire others to do things, to try things, to change their thinking and make things better. Why do we get so stuck in combining management and leadership? Another wrinkle is when a manager does act as a leader. They attempt to create an innovative environment. This has its problems. The words of a manager are taken seriously, sometimes too seriously, and the cry to innovate or to be innovative becomes an order instead of something that is inspired. In management, if you tell someone to do something, they may not be inspired to do that thing.

However, if a manager is a leader, they can influence and inspire someone to do better. The problem lies with manager as bossman telling you what to do, rather than manager as leader stating, "I believe in what you are doing". If you have a vision to make things constantly better, others should do it without asking. They should think of those solutions on their own. If they are truly free to make decisions, then they lead the way. You just follow (as the quote goes, "As for the best leader, the people do not notice their existence. To lead people, walk behind them" --Lao Tzu) In the end, if you have a truly innovative environment where people come up with change on their own, then all you have to do is give them extra money when they need it, and negotiate resources when it goes beyond their ability or scope.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, Thanks for visiting and for linking and joining the discussion.

To clarify, the only part of the discussion that's from Bennis is the list of thirteen attributes of leaders and managers. My premise was that in order to manage today's far savvier workforce a manager needs to have many of the skills that are attributed to "leaders." I agree with you that anyone can lead—call them leaders in the instance.

Good managers inspire their people, they don't order them, but inspiring is a leadership trait. Hence my belief that the best managers possess leadership skills.

I don't believe that leadership is a function of position or intent.
Real leadership is a function of who you are and how you choose to live your life, with any recognition coming unsought from those around you.

And I agree that the true master of what leadership is all about is Lao Tzu (hence my tag line:)

jdscott50 said...

Thank you for commenting. All managers need leadership skills to inspire their employees to greatness. I completely agree with you. More should adopt this idea rather than simply assume they are leader because they are a manager. That's where a great deal of bad leadership comes in.

My take was that I would like to see more leadership from all staff. That kind of leadership a manager can really get behind and as you quote, "...walk behind them." When I see the manager vs. leader comparison that Bennis and others put forth, I have the same issues with it as you do. My point was to take out the job description part and just talk about what is a leader.

Anonymous said...

Yup, we're definitely on the same page.

Leadership is who you are and how you choose to live, but it's the court of public opinion that actually confers the title.

jdscott50 said...

Perfect sentence, I will have to quote you on that one in the future.