In so many organisations there is a lot of confusion between the terms Leadership and Management, up to the point that they are very often used as synonyms. A huge mistake! In a recent post on HBR John Kotter has listed a set of three mistakes that people make on the issue:
- The fact that both words are used interchangeably. Dangerous because the two words are effectively indicating two different vital functions in one organisation.
- The fact that people call the top hierarchy of an organisation “leadership”, and the lower levels of decision making “management”. Dangerous because this assumes that leadership should exclusively be a skill of the top executives, whereas management should be a skill linked to execution at lower levels.
- The fact that “leadership” is often used in terms of personality characteristics. Dangerous because this results in organisations limiting the amplitude of their leadership needs.
These three mistakes are so embedded in the organizational dialogue today, that I recently heard an executive stating “I don’t have time to manage this, I need to lead this organisation”. But how can you actually lead organisations, without processes like planning, budgeting, staffing, measuring performance…. all the typical activities of management?
Leadership is about seeing the future and its business opportunities. Management is about delivering your promise to your customers.
Some people still argue that we must replace management with leadership. This is obviously not so: they serve different, yet essential, functions. We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future — the right future — at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen.
Organisations have to be able to blend both Management and Leadership skills, at all level of their organisations. A front end customer service, just to make an example, needs a lot more “Leadership” than we would think of. Because it is about handling a lot of “difficult conversations” with customers where insight is needed in many situations.
How to do this? Well this is another topic. But as a quick Tip, just make sure you use these words with a lot more care in the future!