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Forget leadership versus management: work on leadership AND management

Posted by Simon Thiessen on Dec 8, 2018 1:50:30 PM

leadership_and_management_-_need_a_split_personalityYour very own split personality!

Forget the debate about whether you need to be a leader or a manager. The simple fact is that you need to be both if you want to create sustainable, exciting results with a cohesive and engaged team.

To make sure we are crystal clear, we don't mean that an organisation needs both leaders and managers. We are talking about you. If you are in a position where you supervise at least one other person, you need to be both a leader and a manager to be effective in the dynamic and demanding environment we all work in today. This is not about a role that someone has given you - it is about how you choose to operate within that role.

What happens when one is missing?

In the short term, either leadership or management on their own may get results. In fact, for a short term, 'quick fix', they may actually work more quickly. However, the combination of leadership and management will always produce superior long term results. If you are working on implementing an approach that will consistently and sustainably get outcomes, you will need both - as this table shows.


Mapping your path up the ladder

Just about every manager we have ever worked with is better at one of the two key roles: leadership and management. In some cases, that is OK because:

  • They are more comfortable with one but still good at the other
  • The specific role they are in suits their natural balance

However most people need to develop their skills, willingness and knowledge in one or the other. It is certainly more common for people to be stronger in management and weaker in leadership - but we have seen plenty of examples of the reverse.

As a rough rule of thumb, the required balance between leadership and management evolves as you progress through the ranks. These descriptions are a rough guide based on our observations in the thousands of organisations we have worked on developing leadership skills:

  • In an entry level supervisory position, the need for management outweighs the need for leadership about 4:1 - ironically, however, it is deficiencies in the leadership aspect that cause these people most of their grief
  • Move up a level or two (higher level supervisory positions and lower middle management) and the balance is more 2:1 with management still dominant - and again with leadership deficiencies causing the biggest problems
  • In higher middle management positions (often just below the executive level) we see a much more even split between the need for leadership and management
  • At the executive level, leadership is the dominant requirement

Bear in mind that this is the balance that is ideally needed - but, sadly, rarely the one we actually see.

A look in the mirror - some contrasts

To help you do your own assessment of where you tend to focus - and what you are stronger at - take a look at the following table. What is your split between the two roles? Does it fit with your position on the organisational ladder? Critically, is it setting you up for the next rung on the ladder?

The following table is adapted from an article by Fred Lunenburg in the International Journal of Management, Business and Administration.


As you can see from this table, both management and leadership are essential for sustainable results - it is obvious why the combination leads to the best outcomes (as shown in the first table). Our advice to existing and prospective supervisors, managers and leaders is to carefully identify which is your strength - also be prepared to acknowledge which is your weakness and be prepared to work on it.

Becoming a regular reader of our articles is a good way to accelerate that development - as is downloading and prominently displaying these free and inspirational leadership posters.

Leadership poster

photo credit: Green Heat via photopin cc