Management vs. Leadership

Many consider the terms “management” and “leadership” to be synonymous – interchangeable and impervious to day, time, and circumstance. One could argue, however that the terms are similar yet different – and knowing the difference is vital to any organization looking to develop true leaders.

In their 2006 article “Strategic Leadership Development” in Training + Development magazine, Anne Locke and Arlene Tarantino wrote that most organizations fail to address leadership development deficits as a consequence of the focus on tactical remediation (reacting to current shortcomings among existing leaders) rather than building toward strategic implementation (developing leaders who will address future needs). I believe this perspective is born out of the consequences of erroneously equating the ability to manage (e.g. assign and monitor tasks) with the ability to lead (cast the vision, engage a systems/strategic perspective).

The notion that management science (the belief that problems have fundamental solutions that can be solved through application of sound management theory, and frankly, praxis) is a broad brush leadership method is wrong – and Justin Menkes rightly noted the merits of the peril of this perspective in his recent Harvard Business Review article “Management Thinking May Be Blinding Leadership”:

In today’s world, management scientists are asked to study a problem, create a tool to fix it, and then conduct a study testing the correlation between the suggested solution and its effect. At the heart of this methodology is reductionist thinking — breaking issues down into component parts that can be isolated and measured for their cause and effect. This approach has undeniable merits, but can also prevent us from uncovering the larger truths that the management sciences seek to reveal.

I recommend clicking the link and reading the article in it’s entirety for context, but Menkes’ summation is clear:

Imagining leadership as a one directional process in which one barks orders and results are the effect is horribly misguided, never more so with than with the highly trained, sophisticated knowledge workers we have today. While real leadership is complex, perhaps inconveniently so, that does not mean it is beyond understanding. Interactionist frameworks are able to highlight identifiable organizing principles that cause directional flows. They also enable us to move beyond overly simplistic, reductionist views of human beings to shed new light on the fluid, recursive quality that is real leadership

Have you mistakenly cast management and leadership in the same general light – and has your perspective changed?


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