Where Leadership and Management Meet

by  Susan Mazza  |  Leadership Development

Part 1 – The Leadership Myth

There is a lot of conversation on the topic of the difference between leadership and management particularly among those who study and/or teach either topic.  In the process it seems to me that a myth has been born – that leadership is better than management.


I want to thank Wayne Lux and Geoff Barbaro for calling my attention to this myth.  I truly appreciate and understand the sentiment behind their statements below.  There are good and valid arguments leading to these conclusions, but the conclusion itself, or at least the shorthand way we have started to express it, is what I want to debunk here.

Is someone really more valuable or more important to the success of any group or organization if they have strong leadership skills even if they can’t manage themselves “out of a paper bag”?

Here is what Wayne and Geoff said that had me start thinking about this:  Wayne Lux (@Gorpdc on twitter) responded with “You LEAD people and MANAGE things” to my question “What is your biggest challenge in managing people?”  Geoff (@Geoff_Barbaro) responded with “For most, I’d suggest it’s not managing, but leading.  People thrive with leadership but stifle with management.

I think those two comments point to our dissatisfaction and disillusion with the lingering historic practices of management that come from the industrial age – an age of mechanization in which the role of people in a business really was a lot like that of a “cog in the wheel” of the production machine.

Unfortunately some people still manage that way: they treat people like machines and expect them to operate like one.  It’s all about getting the work done no matter what.  The boss says jump and the employee is supposed to say “how high?”.

These legacy managers think their job is to dictate and their employee’s job is to follow orders.  They believe their job is to keep tight control over things, and see micro-management as an act of responsibility.

This kind of management is what gives “management” a bad rap, especially in a world that needs, and even demands, a vastly different approach.

While there are some people who still like and want to be told exactly what to do, for many this kind of management is stifling and disempowering.  There is no doubt that management practices and the thinking that gives rise to those practices are in serious need of transformation.

But I don’t think the solution to all of our problems is to throw out “management” and replace it with “leadership”.  Leadership is not better than management.  They are simply distinct skill sets, both equally important to the success of any endeavor.

Here is a simple case for the importance of management.  Every successful business has effective systems.   It takes people to define, manage, and adapt those systems over time.  Among those systems is the human system, aka the organization.

Some systems lend themselves to more of a mechanical process.   The more mechanical the process, the less we need humans.  But we still need people to run them and dare I say “manage” the systems and the people who: envision and design how the systems will work, develop them, execute the tasks necessary to keep them working well, as well as adapt those systems as things change.

Do you manage people or things?  I believe you do manage people.  Machines never run themselves 100%.  Often parts of the process still require a human to execute properly.  Someone must direct the activities of those people, much like a conductor directs an orchestra to play a precisely written set of instructions called a musical score.  It is a dynamic process and the quality of the outcome can be attributed to both the skill of the “conductor” and the synergy of the relationship between the conductor and the “players”.

Effective management is essential to the success of any endeavor involving a group of people.  And so is effective leadership.  One is not better than the other.

So what is the real issue behind the myth?

We now expect people who manage us to also naturally lead us.  We can be ruthless in our judgment when managers don’t do both well.  Yet I don’t believe we have equipped enough people in management or leadership positions with the skills they need to win in today’s world.

What do you think?  Do we all need to be both effective leaders and managers to succeed in today’s world?   Or is there a place for those who are better at one or the other

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What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By susan-mazza
Susan Mazza works with leaders and their organizations to transform their performance from solid to exceptional as a business consultant, leadership coach and motivational speaker. CEO of Clarus-WORKS, Founder/Author of Random Acts of Leadership™, and Co-Author of The Character-Based Leader, Susan was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America in 2013.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Brian Kenney  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

When working with clients I’ve always used “Character and Competence in the service of a common Cause” as my definition of the core of leadership. Working from that definition, I associate character with the qualities of leadership, competence with the skills of management, and cause as the endeavor to we we apply both. All three are absolutely essential.

To wit, having high character and low competence may garner you interpersonal regard/admiration but it’s unlikely to inspire confidence that you can lead others effectively. You risk being seen as a CHEERleader.

High competence with low character can help you gain respect- for your abilities- but will hinder your ability to connect with others, earn their trust, or motivate them to join your cause. You could become a TASKmanager.

When they combine you achieve Managerial Leadership.

If we’re lost in the woods we want our leader to know how to keep us motivated AND read a compass and a map. Otherwise, nice guys finish lost…

Susan Mazza  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

This is a great distinction Brian. Thanks for sharing it!

davidburkus  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Great post. Thanks for attacking the “be a leader, not a manager” myth.

Susan Mazza  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thanks David

Geoff Barbaro  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

G’day Susan, first let me say thank you for taking my shorthand twitter comment and turning it, with a lot of help, into such a thoughtful post. You’re quite right, we do tend to use shorthand to make a point, but often the shorthand is misleading.

I think when you are talking internally, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. I would add the rider that there are only a certain number of management positions available in an organisation, but leadership can and should be found at all levels.

However I believe that management is a specific business skill developed for the leadership and operation of an organisation. It is a function that is internal to an organisation.

Leadership extends beyond the boundaries of the people within an organisation. Organisations succeed when they lead, and this includes leading customes, consumers, clients, suppliers and other stakeholders.

The solution you propose is excellent, however there are other ways to achieve the same result. I recently wrote a post on thinking differently about the make up of senior management teams in a post on the Corporate Growing Pains website.

I am certainly in no doubt that you need both management and leadership in an organisation and that often they utilise the same skills. I also believe that management without leadership does stifle people, but leadership without management can lead to chaos.

All the best, geoff

Susan Mazza  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Excellent points Geoff. Thanks for weighing in and adding the background for your tweet.

Totally with you that leadership is required at all “levels” to achieve success in any endeavor, especially in business.

Although I agree with your point that management is a specific skill, I don’t think it is limited in application internally to a business. My mom managed our household like a finely tuned machine when I was growing up!

Love this point in particular – management without leadership does stifle people, but leadership without management can lead to chaos.

Also, would you please post a link to the blog post you reference in your comment? I would like to read it and am sure others will too. Thanks!

Geoff Barbaro  |  22 Sep 2010  | 

Susan, thanks for the invitation to post the link to the blog on senior management teams. Here it is:

You are quite right about your mum. I was going to say that perhaps management is a skill used within organised groups, but then I thought of myself managing my own household, which is a household of one.

I still believe that management is internal, and linked to actions and activities (as broad terms, including results) where leadership covers the spectrum of internal and external and is linked to values and vision. But that may all just be because of my own definitions.

Cheers, geoff

Susan Mazza  |  24 Sep 2010  | 

Appreciate you coming back Geoff and adding your post and more to the conversation.

Bruce Lynn  |  22 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Glad to read a valiant defence of ‘management’. All too often Leadership is glorified and Management is vilified. Part of the blame lies with Warren Bennnis whose popular book ‘On Leadership’ painted distinctions that portrayed Management in adverse light (see my post ‘Bennis Revisited’ –!B5C035B7809F740A!232.entry.. Most of the distinctions were not the domain of ‘Management’ per se, but rather simply ‘Bad Leadership’.

My own perspective is that ‘Leaders optimise upside opportunity; Manager minimise downside risk. Both are needed in appropriate combination to achieve optimal results.’

Susan Mazza  |  24 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for sharing your post Bruce. “Leadership is glorified and management” is vilified is most certainly the extreme end of this myth. I see your point that Bennis actually distinguished “bad leadership” not management.

You also amplified for me the importance of being mindful in the way we distinguish things, especially when it comes to the short hand phrases we use. Those phrases are often what sticks and without context it can too easily be misconstrued and even do damage.

Greg Waddell  |  23 Sep 2010  |  Reply

I agree totally that management is just as important as leadership. I do see them as different functions and that it is very rare to find people who can do both effectively. That’s why we need a team with mixed capabilities. I don’t think it’s just a difference between giving orders versus inspiring. The real difference is between working to bring order into the chaos (the management function) and creating more chaos by challenging the current system (the leadership function). These are different but equally important functions.

Susan Mazza  |  24 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for that further distinction between the two. The thought you triggered for me in your comment is that just as there is a lot of talk about leadership not being about position, managing is a skill set many people have who are not in management positions.

Joseph Mullin  |  24 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Leadership and Management are two different skill sets. Not everyone possess both sets of skills as they appear from a number of conversations and written text to be diametrically opposed.
The consensus of what I have read of late is that leaders are visionaries while managers are those that make the vision happen. While there is much truth in this I do not feel that it meets every situation. I believe that there are some managers who are also visionaries. They almost have to be if you think about it.

The CEO has a vision about where they want the company to go. They convince their managers to execute on this vision. Now the manager has to develop his own vision of how they are going to make it work. So the leadership skill kicks in to formulate this vision and to persuade the department or team that this is the right path to follow. Then the manager side kicks in and he explains the responsibilities and the expected outcome and time line.

So while they are different they work in conjunction for the best outcome.

Is one better than the other? I say no, just different.

Susan Mazza  |  24 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Excellent points about vision Joseph. You actually make the case for vision being one of those areas where management and leadership meet. Great food for thought for part II of this post. Thanks!

Christian Paulsen  |  24 Sep 2010  |  Reply


Excellent post on a hot topic. There does seem to be a theme that leadership is better than management. While it is important to understand the difference to further develop one’s skills, the two are inseparable in practice. We need both. People long for leadership because truly great leadership seems to be elusive. Thanks for sharing.


Susan Mazza  |  24 Sep 2010  |  Reply

I too believe the two are inseparable. I also think sometimes we identify what’s missing or broken as “leadership” when things are going well, And sometimes what’s missing are the management skills we now need to manage successfully in today’s world. Seems to me we need to do much better at both.

Jane Perdue  |  25 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Good post, Susan!

All leaders need to be managers yet not all who manage can lead.

The very nature of business today requires everyone holding a job from supervisor through CEO to handle the “what’s” of business – planning, organizing, directing and controlling. A business person must be able to manage – meaning to plan, organize, direct and control –to be successful.

Yet it’s the rare individual – inside business or out, with or without a job title – who transcends managing to become a leader. Someone whose personal qualities, the “how’s” of their existence, allow them to guide, motivate and inspire. We want to follow them.

Use your head to manage and your heart to lead!

Susan Mazza  |  03 Oct 2010  |  Reply

It does seem to be rare to find someone who can do both well Jane. And I believe that is a big problem for businesses. Seems to me leadership training needs to become foundational training for everyone. Not everyone will rise to a leadership position but unless we teach everyone to think and act like leaders in whatever position they hold we are limiting the potential of organizations.

executive coaching  |  29 Sep 2010  |  Reply

One-on-one mentoring is among the most effective strategies to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values of a leader. The value of such mentoring is optimized when the mentor can provide evidence-based feedback regarding an individual’s performance.

Susan Mazza  |  03 Oct 2010  |  Reply

One on one mentoring and coaching can be extraordinarily effective. Unfortunately it is too expensive to provide to everyone so people only get the coaching after they are in a position that requires leadership rather than having the opportunity to be supported in cultivating their leadership skill and style early in their career.

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