Over-Managed, Under-Led: The Difference Between Leaders and Managers

up up awayEverywhere I turn, I see organizations that have confused managers for leaders. This most commonly happens because executives or upper management chooses to value knowledge or skill over leadership when hiring or promoting, and therefore they place someone in a role as a manager that they hope and pray will be a leader. This often fails miserably because managers don’t automatically morph into leaders just because they receive a leadership title. Because we have confused this, we have too many over-managed organizations and not enough organizations with leadership.

John Kotter of Harvard Business School sets out the difference between management and leadership in a recent Harvard Business Review article:

Management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

Some people still argue that we must replace management with leadership. This is obviously not so: they serve different, yet essential, functions. We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future — the right future — at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen.

How many of your managers are leaders? There is a vast difference. Managers are promoted. Leaders are developed.

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