Anyone whose main function in an organization is to get things done through others must be both a manager and a leader. Management is about how things are to be done, leadership is about how to get others to do it. Not all leaders are managers but all managers must be leaders; executives too need to know how to do both.

There has been a lengthy debate over the years (foolish in my mind) about the difference between management and leadership. Here’s my take.

The cliché about management is that managers are mechanics and technicians, concerned with process and results. Occasionally it is accepted (sometimes grudgingly) that effective managers need to be good with people. But they are not leaders.

Leaders on the other hand (and this is usually code for executives) are all about charisma and vision, encouraging and exhorting others to follow. But leaders are never tainted with the tedium of administration. That’s for managers.

While leaders can occur anywhere in an organization, executives need to be leaders! (But not managers?)

These are extreme views admittedly but I’m betting most of you found yourself generally nodding in agreement with these characterizations.

I prefer not to make a distinction between leaders and managers, at least in the context of organizational structure. I think all managers must possess some degree of leadership (especially in the sense of attracting the commitment of their employees (the followers?) and all senior leaders/executives must have mastered the science and art of management.

I remember reading an article (don’t remember the title or the sources) in which a distinction was made between managers and leaders in terms of tactical and strategic. Plotted on a graph with Tactical on the vertical axis and Strategic on the horizontal, Supervisors and Managers would be high tactical and low strategic; Directors would be a mixture, and Vice-Presidents and General Managers would be high strategic and low tactical:

I think this is a fair distinction between the work of managers – more tactical and operational – and the work of senior leaders or executives which is more strategic, visionary and long term purposeful.

But that’s not the whole discussion on what’s the difference between managers and leaders. Too many senior executives seem to think that their main focus is strategy and long term results; in the short term they may focus on monitoring results and contributing to critical deal making. But the management of people is often seen as irrelevant, even distracting, from the executive function. Managers deal with people; executives deal with ideas. Or so the thinking goes. Plotted on a graph it would look like this:

Or, conceding that executives do not live in a vacuum when it comes to dealing with people the argument often goes that executives are externally faced while managers are internally faced. It would look like this:

All these graphs have the same bias: senior leaders may not need people skills to the same extent as managers and supervisors.

But how can this be true? Senior executives have subordinate managers who need attention. Those subordinates may themselves be experienced senior executives but they are still people and need communications, appreciation and development too. My belief is that senior executives have all the same responsibilities for managing their people as any lower level manager. Moreover, senior leaders have to communicate credibly with every employee, whether one-on-one, in town hall meetings, MBWA or even through external media events. Leaders attract followers, not just because they are good at crafting and articulating a vision, but by creating a will to follow. And that requires well developed interpersonal skills.

Maybe we should talk some more about leaders and managers from the perspective of their people responsibilities. Certainly managers are responsible for planning and organizing the work; assigning it to employees and giving effective expert instruction; and measuring and evaluating the results. But managers can’t manage by authority alone. They must also have what we might call influencing skills, personal power, the capacity to cause others to do what needs to be done. These are characteristics or aspects of leadership which every manager should have. The manager needs to relate to employees, so that employees can identify and be engaged with the manager. if you don’t have this capacity to influence subordinates to engage in purposeful behaviour you can’t get your goals achieved.

Senior leaders or executives have the same challenge: they also need to be able to guide and give necessary direction to their subordinate managers; and they also must be able to do this by relating to people and attracting followership: to cause people, or influence people, to do what is needed to be done. Of course executives have the additional expectation that they provide a sense of purpose, vision, strategy, the overall direction for the organisation that the followers buy into and are willing to follow. But that is not their only job.

And so for me when it comes to leadership in management all managers and all executives must have strong leadership skills. Managers use their leadership ability to translate strategy into operational effectiveness or results; executives use their leadership ability to conceive the direction the organization is going to take and convince followers of the rightness and appropriateness of goals. But both managers and executives must have effective leadership skills, that is, effective people skills, in order to influence purposeful behaviour.

And so we might want to re-think the relative roles of managers and executives in this fashion: Successful Executives need to be high in Strategic Leadership AND high in People Leadership. They also need to have high appreciation of management process. Executives low in People Leadership (influencing purposeful behaviour) and too immersed in Tactics will not be successful in the long run.

Successful Managers must be effective in management process but also need to be high on Tactical Leadership (converting strategy to execution) as well as high in People Leadership. (Ironically, Managers who fail in people leadership lose their jobs; too often, Executives who fail in people leadership keep their jobs!)

{This 3 dimension space (or is it 4?) is hard to chart. If anyone can create a picture of this, send it to me!}

If you are an Executive, are you cultivating both kinds of leadership skills? As well as honing your management skills?