Leadership vs Management

Jun 21 2006 by Brian M. Sullivan Print This Article

Many people think of "leadership" and "management" as interchangeable concepts. But as a 20-year veteran of the executive recruitment industry and now CEO of an executive search firm, CTPartners, I have seen first-hand that there is a vast divide between them.

Let me start by explaining what I mean by these two terms. Leadership is innovative, creative and, above all else, proactive. When CEOs are effective leaders, they anticipate problems and opportunities; they motivate and develop strategic responses; and they actively involve themselves in the implementation of action-oriented plans.

In contrast, management is a reactive tool to whatever situations happen to crop up. When problems develop, these executives respond. When they pursue action, it's on familiar terrain or through time-tested strategies.

Throughout the global marketplace, there are plenty of corporations and other organizations with people who I would characterize as "managers" at the helm. Is that acceptable? I don't think so. Because the stakes are so high, I believe that the global debate over leadership vs. management should be an essential one for all of us: executives and CEOs, board directors, institutional and individual investors, members of the media, and others involved in the business community.

Why settle for a "manager" whose goal is, basically, to maintain the status quo? After all, the mission of a "leader" is to reinvent, so that the organization he or she directs – and every person who works within it – continuously become better.

The mission of a leader is to reinvent, so that the organization he or she directs continuously become better

Here's an example from my own career. Some observers have characterized the executive search industry as an oligopoly, with a handful of major players that are big, global and perhaps even indistinguishable. These companies don't tend to make bold movements.

Business as usual means, among other things, keeping a veil of secrecy over their placement rates. Traditionally clients have had no way of measuring how successful recruitment firms like these are when it comes to placing the right executive in the "empty chair".

When I came to CTPartners as its CEO in September 2004, I brought a vision that this firm could change the way our industry has functioned for the past fifty years: rewrite the book, if you will, on how a search firm could deliver performance, quality and results. From my early days in office, I worked with our partners to track what clients really wanted and then to figure out how we could give it to them.

We concluded that companies wanted – and deserved – more accountability from search firms. We responded by establishing transparency and accountability as company-wide priorities. This year, CTPartners became the first major search firm to independently audit and disclose its placement rate.

However, as a CEO as well as a search professional, I understand that having vision and demanding results is not enough. Leaders must be able to "sell" their vision and results-orientation to everyone throughout the organization.

This isn't a one-time process. Chief executives need to be able to continually present these messages in such a way that the men and women of their organizations will remain motivated, growing, and achieving at the highest levels of performance.

Strong leaders demand results and, there's no denying this, they shake things up in a way that can make work life more difficult, if also so much more rewarding. Clarity, consistency and effective communications are absolutely essential to making this process succeed.

At CTPartners, the people who work with me know, without any doubt, that my highest priority is delivering results to our clients. No matter how busy I am, I take the time each day to send a congratulatory email or to phone in my praise whenever one of our professionals makes a successful placement. On the flip side, I get involved quickly when someone is failing to meet agreed-upon targets.

There's a complex balancing act that's required in all this. After all, "managers" can, and often do, get bogged down in the mundane. That's one reason why they can't see past their immediate horizons. Some might argue that my celebratory calls and emails fall into that category.

However, the results speak for themselves. CTPartners has gone through a tremendous process of expansion over the past 20 months. We have added many new partners, moved into new global markets and industry sectors, and, along the way, nearly tripled our revenues. Most significantly, though, we have raised our placement rate from 70% in September 2004 to 87% in May 2006.

When it comes to the whole issue of leadership vs management, I am firmly convinced that the choices chief executives make – whether they implicitly define their roles and responsibilities as those of a leader or a manager – will have an enormous impact on the paths their organizations will take to success, failure, or mediocrity.

About The Author

Brian M. Sullivan
Brian M. Sullivan

Brian M. Sullivan is Chairman and CEO of Christian & Timbers, a performance-driven executive search firm serving Fortune 1000, NASDAQ, and pioneering venture backed companies.

Older Comments

There IS a vast divide between managing and leading, which Warren Bennis does an excellent job of clarifying in his book 'On Becoming a Leader'. Management is more focused on implementation, compliance and a tactical orientation, where Leadership is focused on innovation and change, inclusion and development, and a strategic orientation. John Kotter, in his book 'Leading Change', suggests that during times of change 70-90% of managers time should be spent leading and 10-30% managing.

As I consult with executives and leaders, a common need is the understanding and development of their leadership role. As you think back over the past several decades, management development has been focused precisely on that...managing not on leading.

There is much work to be done in the area of leadership - at all levels of the organization!

Linda Oien, Founder Washington

I do not agree that there is a vast divide.

Managing simply means to control or direct something and implies the effective use of resources. We therefore manage finances, production, construction, supply chain, engineering, people, stage plays, sales, marketing, quality, safety, etcetera, etcetera.

For most of these areas of management, there is a well-defined body of knowledge of how to be successful. If one wants to become a civil engineer able to manage the engineering of building structures, there are many schools which will impart the knowledge you need and there is little variation in the knowledge provided. From there on it is a matter of gaining experience. The knowledge includes theory and procedures to place that theory into use, a comprehensive, coherent set of 'whats, whys and how tos'.

But for managing the resource named 'people' we have no well-defined body of knowledge. In fact, what we have is great disagreement, a bunch of one-liners like 'managing is doing the thing right while leadership is doing the right thing' (as if that was useful), almost no supportive theory, lots of whats and almost no how tos.

I know because in the process of managing people for over 30 years, I read most of the relevant books looking for help. But after following the top-down command and control model for 12 years, I had a revelation which eventually allowed me to develop a comprehensive, coherent set of whats, whys and how tos for managing people. I did it in order to be able to train my subordinate managers and supervisors.

I proved this set of tools in effecting four successful turnarounds including a nuclear-powered cruiser and a 1300 person unionized group in New York City.

I learned that leadership is the only way to manage people because people follow the value standards reflected by what they experience in the workplace. Leadership and following are opposite sides of a coin called values. What workers experience is the boss' leadership and is what they will follow. If the norm is to give orders to workers and since orders are considered demeaning and disrespectful by the everyone, this leads people to demean and disrespect their customers, their work, their fellow workers and their bosses.

That is just an example of what leadership actually is. A boss' leadership is most clearly displayed by the value standards reflected in the support the boss provides to workers, support which it is the boss responsibility to provide such as training, tools, parts, material, policies, procedures, direction, discipline, technical support, rules, etc.

I know that the above does not conform to the great gurus such as Bennis and Drucker, but then they never proved that what they profess works down in the trenches.

Ben Simonton