by Doug Wilson, Columnist & Featured Contributor
MUCH DISCUSSION on LinkedIn is around whether or not managers are leaders. While there will never be a universally accepted answer to this issue (opinions are like noses, all of us have one!), confusion is caused if some clarity does not exist. So, just as fools rush in where angels fear to tread, I ask and answer four questions for consideration and discussion.
From reading LinkedIn posts, one gets two distinct impressions. First, management and leadership are routinely viewed as separate and distinct functions. Second, it is good to be a leader and bad to be a manager. In reality, this leadership-management dichotomy is a recent phenomenon. Maybe it occurred because “knowledge economy” employees seek guidance, not direction. Possibly it developed because society no longer honors positions of authority. Or maybe it has occurred because of the significant failings within both the federal government and private sectors causing us all to question what is going on with people when they assume authority. For whatever reason, management is generally viewed as negative and leadership as positive.
Sometimes it seems “thought leaders” dance on the head of a pin trying to make precise distinctions between management and leadership. The problem is that in day to day organizational life, most of these distinctions fail to describe reality and, therefore, add little practical value; often confuse the issue; and, may perpetuate excuses for managers to avoid their legitimate responsibilities.
Question 1: “Are management and leadership functions separate?”
For years scholars wrote about the key responsibilities of management. While the taxonomy varied, the core management responsibilities (where value is added) were fairly consistent.
As one can see, these responsibilities illustrated the belief that managers had the obligation and responsibility to lead people. The view was that management and leadership responsibilities were inherent in the same position. All managers were expected to be leaders. This is still the reality in most organizations today.
Question 2: “Is leadership less important than management?”
The linear diagram of the responsibilities presented above shows leadership as one of four separate but equal management functions. It is much more than that. Leadership is really the heart of all management activity. (see below). Therefore, leadership beliefs, styles and practices permeate and affect every aspect of a manager’s responsibilities and actions.
If a manager believes in and uses a directive style, he or she will autocratically plan, organize and evaluate. If the manager uses a country clubber leadership style, he or she will placate people throughout the planning, organizing, leading and evaluating tasks. When the manager believes in and uses a collaborative style, his or her responsibilities will be carried out by involving and engaging staff to create and implement optimal solutions. Therefore, leadership is the critical responsibility of managers. Leadership philosophy, beliefs and style influences how managers use their organization-granted authority. Consequently, the leader’s style impacts the employees’ view of that leader and the entire organization. This has a major impact on productivity and retention. For the manager/leader, sound leadership is not an option but a necessity. As a result, leadership is the manager’s preeminent responsibility.
Question 3: “Is leadership only found in managers?”
While all managers must be leaders, not all leaders are managers. Leadership is not limited to a managerial position but rather leaders exist throughout all organizational levels. In fact pure leaders (those with few, if any, management responsibilities) may reside both at the top or bottom on an organization (and anywhere in between). The major difference between managers and informal leaders is that managers are granted organizational authority/power to accomplish their responsibilities. While informal leaders seldom possess formal authority/power, they informally impact the organization as they guide and motivate others toward their goals.
Question 4: Does it really matter?
Individual manager/leader implications
- Leadership is every manager’s preeminent responsibility whether the manager likes (or wants) it or not.
- Managers must understand and own responsibility for how their leadership style impacts all their other responsibilities and actions (not just their “people” interactions like communication, motivation, collaboration, etc.). Leadership style and behavior cannot be viewed as secondary to other “more important” work.
Senior leadership implications
- Leadership style is not an individual choice. Because an organization’s collective leadership style is a major determinant of culture, senior leaders have a responsibility and obligation to shape and decree the style their managers will use and then to develop the competencies and techniques necessary to implement that style. (It is interesting that a culture of participation or collaboration often begins with a senior leader’s autocratic decision. As Douglas McGregor said years ago, “It takes a little autocratic to make participative work!”). Failure to shape leadership team behavior means senior leadership assumes responsibility for the way the collective leadership team behaves.
- Senior leaders must define and build specific manager/leader capabilities and competencies. One manager’s actions can have a major influence on how an organization is viewed as a place to work. Therefore developing and aligning the manager/leader part of culture is critical for senior managers. (The entire approach to leadership development should be carefully reviewed by senior leaders and not left to the whims of trainers, consultants or the fads of the moment).
- Allowing manager/leaders to practice and sustain inappropriate or unacceptable leadership styles is a major failing of senior leadership teams. Sub-optimizing talent cannot be considered a trivial matter. Senior leaders are often reluctant to address poor leadership styles or behaviors of subordinate managers. However, inadequate leadership behaviors must be addressed even more quickly and decisively than other types of performance problems. It also must be made clear to all who accept a formal manager/leader position that he or she is accepting the obligation to practice cultural leadership principles and behaviors. (Get in line or get out of that seat on the bus!)
- Managers must be held personally and individually accountable for how they fulfill their leadership responsibilities. Meaningful leadership metrics must be a part of every manager’s KPIs.
- Finally, senior leadership must carefully nurture and develop informal leaders as well as formal manager/leaders. The health of an organization is greatly determined by the alignment of formal and informal leaders’ actions toward shared organizational goals. Therefore, informal leaders cannot be ignored in the leadership development process.
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