Monday, August 01, 2005

The Leadership-Management Conundrum

I am frequently asked to explain the difference between management and leadership and always find myself slightly at a loss. The two-columned approach describing one versus the other just doesn’t do justice to the reality. Because I see management and leadership linked like fraternal Siamese twins, I cannot offer up with any enthusiasm a chart that provides the right description.

I’ve taken to using the awkward term “leader-manager” as a means of communicating the connectedness. In my mind, both capabilities dance together in each of us like two focused ballroom dancers vying for mastery together. One needs the other to get inspired, agree on the plan, and provide support for getting the job done. Both leadership and management are needed throughout the entire “dance”. It is a creative collaboration that brings life to a system, to a challenge.

I have been tempted to drop the word “manager” or “management” altogether. We’re at the stage in our human history where the term seems out of date, at least in relatively sophisticated, evolving democracies. Technology has taken over many of the controlling and monitoring functions heretofore prime responsibilities of managers. We now have the luxury and freedom to exercise our natural leadership no matter what level in an organization. But, I continue to wonder if the term “leadership” is enough to encompass the full range of capabilities required to help teams and whole organizations move forward. Can “leadership” stand on its own without “management”?

The persistence of this conundrum, management versus leadership led me to review the thoughts of several of my favorite authors---Mary Parker Follett, Kurt Lewin, Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, Douglas McGregor, Margaret Wheatley, Anthony Jay and many others. “Leadership” emerged as the preferred, more modern capability but by no means has “management” dropped out of the discussion. Instead it has taken on a more humanistic meaning that reflects the rapid rise of democracy in the workplace. To my surprise I did discover a new word that gets around the awkwardness of “leader-manager” and at the same time captures the connection: “linking leadership.”

More on this later.

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