it isn’t “either/or”

I’m uncomfortable with the manager vs. leader dichotomy that’s bandied about lately.

Most of the time, the conversation is reduced to a sound bite: “Managers do things right, leaders to the right thing” (from a Warren Bennis quote).

Cute, but not helpful.

There is no single definition of management or leadership. How you define either term depends on your view of human nature and motivation.

Some people would define management as the process of dealing with or controlling things or people. On the other hand, Drucker would say the two central tasks of management are helping workers to achieve and moving capital from less to more productive areas.

When we talk about leaders, are we talking about charismatic leaders who gather followers to support them in implementing their own vision? Or are we talking about people who help people find their own power and creativity?

How management and leadership is practiced depends on the predominant beliefs of the organization and the mental model and skills of individuals. I believe that leadership doesn’t exist only in a role. It’s in taking action that make it possible for people to bring their best thinking and creativity to bear in solving problems and creating value. And frankly, I don’t see the title (or role) of manager going away any time soon. For one thing, there are legal and financial implications of doing away with the role.

Rather than denigrating the role (and by implication the people in that role) I would find it more useful to talk about what sort of support teams need, what skills are needed to provide that support and then design roles around that.

Maybe we can start a different conversation.

Here’s one starting point to think about the skills that people in management roles and leaders at all levels need (from Welter and Egmon):

Eight Essential Skills of a Prepared Mind:

  • Observing
  • Reasoning
  • Imagining
  • Challenging
  • Deciding
  • Learning
  • Enabling
  • Reflecting

I add:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Ability to see systems
  • Interpersonal skills

What sort of support does your team need?

What skills and attitudes will enable that support?

What might that role look like?

What does the organization as a whole need from that role?