During two decades of HR experience, I have read numerous articles on the differences between leadership and management, as well as how particular job titles need to have more or less of each.
Instead of providing another article on the similarities and differences between management and leadership, this article will take a different perspective: Instead of treating them as separate, organizations should approach them as complementary and symbiotic concepts.
Each might focus on different areas and provide different skill sets, but someone with authority needs both management and leadership skills to be successful. If one skill is lacking, performance suffers. Keep in mind that leadership and management are not just job titles or positions, but competencies and skill sets needed in all types of organizations and at all levels.
In dealing with thousands of people in various positions of authority, it has become clear to me that to be successful, one must possess both leadership and management skills. Unfortunately, organizations treat these concepts as separate entities. One example is the informal title given to those in authority. Those toward the top of the organizational hierarchy are referred to as leaders, while those lower are referred to as managers.
How should we think of them?
Most experts describe leadership and management as different roles and set out to list various tasks of each. Wouldn't a better approach be to list the tasks of someone in authority and then explain how management and leadership approach those tasks from different perspectives?
For example, both include the following tasks but approach them differently:
- Communication: Both communicate; however, the message varies. Managers communicate in order to problem-solve, assign tasks and set expectations. Leaders communicate to set direction, inspire and motivate.
- Planning: Managers organize, budget and control so that the journey is the most efficient one. Leaders set the direction for the organization, department or team.
- Staffing: Managers hire to fill positions and arrange people to best complete the job. Leaders decide what human capital is necessary for meeting future business needs and align the staff to best meet the goals of the organization.
So the difference between them is not necessarily one of task, but of perspective. The old adage "managers do things right; leaders do the right things" is so true. Yet, I think the adage could be slightly altered: "The leader in the person decides on the right things to do, then the manager in her/him decides on the right way to do them." One of the biggest problems in organizations today is thinking management occurs before leadership.
Think about it—what do we focus on when we train young supervisors? The typical Supervisor 101 training focuses on management type of activities, such as organizing, budgeting, communicating task assignments and reporting. It is not until more advanced training that leadership skills are introduced. The problem is that young supervisors need leadership skills, as well as management skills. For example, if setting direction is considered a leadership skill, and we wait to train supervisors on this skill, how do inexperienced supervisors know what to do? Maybe that is why so many of them are waiting for someone else to perform their leadership task of setting direction so they can get started with their managerial role.
So what should we do?
Research indicates there are too few organizations today with sufficient leadership. Maybe this is because training for new supervisors starts—and often ends—with the topic of management.
Let's switch the focus and start teaching about leadership even before focusing on management. Too often, organizations think that once a person in authority reaches a certain level in the organization, he or she can flip a switch and start acting more like a leader and less like a manager. Wouldn't it be better to teach lower-level leadership skills along with primary management skills? If so, then as people advance in the organization, training and development can focus on more complex, sophisticated leadership and management skills. No matter the position or level within the organization, the successful person must possess the skill sets and portray the behaviors of both management and leadership.
So the next time people ask if you are more of a manager or leader, tell them ... both.
To learn more about this topic, check out two of my favorite thought leaders, John Maxwell and Liz Wiseman. Also, one of my favorite leadership blogs is www.leadershipfreak.wordpress.com.
Dr. Brian Chupp earned his PhD in Human Resource Development from the University of Toledo in 2010. For the first 23 years of his career, he worked as an HR Professional, collaborating with various organizations, such as The Home Depot and Advance Auto Parts, to create competitive business advantage through strategic business partnerships, emerging leader development, and effective human capital strategies. He has also been a Senior Consultant for HRD International, Inc. working with manufacturing, financial, healthcare, and service organizations in the areas of Organizational and Needs Assessment, Strategic Planning, Human Performance Technology, and Talent Development. For the last 7 years, he has been on faculty with Purdue University's Krannert School of Management in the Organizational Behavior and Human Resource department.