Do We Have to Choose Between Management and Leadership?

©2006-2007 Esther Derby

This column originally appeared on

In a recent discussion on the state of a software company,
a programmer declared, “We don’t need managers around here,
we need leaders!”

I’m always puzzled by statements like this.

“How do you see the difference between management and
leadership?” I asked.

“Managers do things right, and leaders do the right thing,”
the programmer replied, repeating a Warren Bennis quote.

“But what do they do differently?” I pressed.

quot;Managers manage, and leaders lead,”
the programmer replied with conviction.

Here’s how leadership professor John Kotter describes the difference
between management and leadership (which I paraphrase here):

Management is:

  • establishing timetables and steps for achieving needed results and allocating resources to make it happen.
  • creating structure, staffing and delegating responsibility,
    and having the authority to accomplish goals.
  • monitoring results, identifying
    deviations, and planning and organizing to solve problems.
  • producing key results expected by various stakeholders.

Leadership is:

  • establishing direction, and developing a vision for the future.
  • aligning people, modeling the vision, influencing, and creating
    teams and coalitions.
  • inspiring people to overcome barriers to change by satisfying
    basic human needs.
  • producing useful change.

Reading these lists, it’s clear to me that organizations need both.

Here’s an example. A test manager takes a job with a new testing group.
He talks with his team, his manager, and the internal and external
customers for his unit’s work.
Based on what he hears, he articulates a mission for the group: “We
provide assessments of product quality and help product owners understand
risks.” That’s leadershipsetting a direction.

He works with the team to identify all the work they’re currently
doing, work that’s in queue, and projects scheduled for the next several
months. Together, they assess what they can accomplish,
what they won’t do, and whether they have the right mix of
skills to do the work. That’s management.

He supports the team as it self-organizes to accomplish the work.
The organizing part is management (done by the team), while supporting
self-organization is leadershipmeeting human needs for autonomy.

The test manager works with the team to identify the resources they
needmachines, tools, and trainingand then adjusts the
budget to acquire the necessary resources. That’s management.

He’s showing leadership when he meets with members of the team to
understand their aspirations and help them articulate professional
development goals. When they work together to build skills into daily work,
that’s management.

As the team works to test its products, the manager and the team work
together to develop metrics and dash boards that show test progress and
communicate the quality of the productmanagement again.

He makes sure the development manager and product owner define
release criteria, leading through influence. He also brings change to
the way the company makes ship decisions. When a testing project
starts slipping, he pulls the team together to assess the issues and
replan their approach–management, according to Kotter’s definition.

And so it goesa little management here, some leadership there.
The balance shifts, depending on the situation. The test manager combines
management and leadership activities to attend to people and accomplish
meaningful work.

I’ve worked with people who were all leadership. When they lacked
management behaviorsfollow-through and attention to practical
implementationthey left chaos in their wakes
(and didn’t actually produce much useful change). I’ve also worked
with people who were mostly management, which only worked when they
had enough personal warmth to navigate human relationships.
(In accounting areas, you don’t necessarily want creative ideas or
big charismathink Enron.)

Viewing leadership and management as dichotomous sets up a false
choice. Most positions in organizations need both, and that’s what
effective managers deliver.

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