More on leadership vs management

Sep 18 2008 by Brian Amble Print This Article

What's the difference between leadership and management? And what makes an effective business leader? These two perennial questions have generated a staggering volume of discussion over the years, but little that is more pertinent than these two absolutely essential posts on Bob Sutton's blog [specifically here and here].

"To do the right thing", Sutton argues, "a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right". In other words, they need to have real hands-on experience in the industry along with years of experience doing, managing, and succeeding at the kind of work their people do. Just coming up with grandiose strategies and leaving the detail of how to actually implement them to others (what Henry Mintzberg termed "management by deeming") is a recipe for failure.

I am not much rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might be most properly called a mix of leadership and management (a great example is HP CEO Mark Hurd) , or at least, lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management. And some of the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid learning the details they need to understand the big picture and to select the right strategies.

Of course, this kicked off quite a debate on the whole management/leadership dichotomy, including this comment from Michael Maccoby.

I think we should differentiate leadership which always involves a relationship as contrasted with management which has to do with processes and systems. Yes, leaders should understand management. However, management doesn't always need a manager.

"Management doesn't always need a manager". Now there's some food for thought!