Published: Working World

What is the distinction between leadership and management within an organization? The reality is that not many of us have been privileged to work in an organization where true, enlightened leadership has taken place. In the past, effective management skills, which we’ve called leadership, were often all that was required to run a profitable, successful organization—not so in today’s chaotic, ever-changing business environment.

When most of us started working, businesses were far simpler than what we are facing today. Our customers were not as knowledgeable about quality products or services, and their expectation level was significantly lower. The market and our competition were more predictable and less turbulent. Employees were less savvy and accepted the “command-and-control” hierarchical structure more readily. In fact, the historic model of leadership, which was taught in colleges, had more to do with management than leadership.

All of that has changed, and it is time to reassess who we need to be in today’s dramatically changing marketplace. For organizations to survive and prosper in the coming years, we will need to develop an appropriate balance between our already finely honed management skills and our newly emerging leadership responsibilities. Let’s shake up our thinking and see what we find is the correct tension between the two.

For many of us in business, the distinction between “leadership” and “management” is blurred, and the words are used interchangeably. I first noticed this when I was performing one-on-one business coaching with leaders in companies throughout Southern California. Frequently, the complaint I heard coming from many of them was, “All I’ve accomplished today is talk to people. I haven’t done a thing!” This is a sure sign that these leaders are measuring their achievements based upon a management mentality, which requires product as evidence of working, rather than a leadership focus, which says you can produce through influencing others.

So let’s look at some distinctions. To manage means “to bring about, to control, to plan, to direct, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct.” Leading is “influencing, empowering, guiding in direction, course, action, opinion.”

1. Leaders are externally focused. They know that in these rapidly changing times and heightened global competition it is imperative to monitor their external environment for changes if they want to retain a strong, growing organization. Leaders don’t get bogged down with the details of the internal process (managers are doing that for them); rather, they are collecting new ways of doing business and trends that create breakthroughs for their organizations.

2. Leaders provide the vision. When describing strong leadership, the outstanding quality consistently quoted is the purpose or vision leaders bring to an organization. They see that one of their primary roles is to set a clear, vital sense of direction so that their people can concentrate on “how to get there.” 21st Century Leadership says that, “Vision provides a way to align people with a higher purpose so that they move in concert as they exercise their own judgment and release their full potential. When everyone is motivated by a common vision, they have tremendous alignment and forward velocity.” Outstanding leaders create direction and guide their organizations with their heart and eyes focused on the future.

3. Leaders value the potential of people. They understand that it is only through utilizing and encouraging the empowerment of all employees that organizations can grow dynamically through their turned-on energy. “The people closest to any given situation know how to handle it best. The more voices that are heard, the stronger the organization,” is an insightful comment from Barbara Levy Kipper, Chairman of Charles Levy Company. Leaders maximize the potential of each individual to bring about synergy—one plus one equals more than two in these organizations.

4. Leaders ride the wave of chaos. They thrive on challenging the status quo, on keeping the pot stirred. Leaders have learned that by rigidly maintaining balance and resisting chaos in their organizations they have, in fact, brought about entropy (decline, degradation), the very outcome they were defending against. Change offers a magnificent opportunity for organizations that ultimately leads to growth and evolution. As Margaret J. Wheatley says in Leadership and the New Science, “If organizations are machines, control makes sense. If organizations are process structures, then seeking to impose control through permanent structure is suicide.” Organizations can only exist when they maintain a culture unafraid of fluidity and self-renewal.

5. Leaders are committed to learning. An organization that is not committed to continually improving individual effort will not have the tools to compete in the coming years. John Sculley, past Chairman and CEO of Apple Computer, Inc. succinctly pointed out, “The Japanese have almost 100 percent literacy. What they and many European nations are doing is building their economies for the global Information Age by taking literate, trainable workers and giving them the most advanced tools. We must absolutely follow this example of empowerment through educating our people.” Education is the single most important opportunity that a leader can offer employees, because it opens their minds to a whole new world of possibility for themselves and their organizations.

6. Leaders set the standard of integrity. In order to have an environment that offers the freedom of creativity and innovation, a leader must first establish the foundation of integrity and trust in their organizations. They demonstrate this attribute by walking their talk. David T. Kearns, former Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporations, said, “When you’re evaluating people to lead institutions and our nation, you have to get over the integrity barrier before you arrive at vision, results, or anything else. It’s absolutely imperative that we have a cadre of people coming up into the leadership core of our country who really understand the issue of integrity. It is the absolute number one value to look for.”

7. Leaders bring zest to their organization. Leaders know that our organizations have for years negatively reflected the results of our never-ending battles for power, profit and success. It is time to bring the balance of zest, play and joy into the mix of our organizations for without these much-needed additives, burnout and lifelessness is all that our organizations and we can hope to experience. Leaders set the tone by demonstrating their ability to enjoy the road and have fun along the way and by encouraging others to do the same.

Yes, new times require new attitudes, but it should not be at the cost of destroying everything that has gone before. For the survival of our organizations in the years to come, our finely honed management abilities will still be essential, balanced alongside newly emerging leadership mastery. Finding the right tension between the two is the challenge facing all of us. Some of us may more naturally lean towards managing (control, processes, measurement), while others are more comfortable with leading (vision, empowerment, flexibility); however, both are essential and should be honored in our organization. We all have the tendency to measure against and think from our own paradigm of comfort, but that narrowness of thought doesn’t work any longer. The time has come to stretch our thinking and embrace both styles of handling business for the betterment of our lives and our organizations.

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