Is leadership better than management?

This is a popular question, but I find the entire “leadership vs. management” dichotomy to be misguided and unproductive. Comparing the two concepts along the better–worse axis is almost from the realm of apples vs oranges.

Originally, management was viewed as a formal organizational role focused on planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling resources to achieve specific goals. Managers were appointed into these roles, with their skills honed through training and experience.

Leadership, conversely, was seen as an innate quality – a powerful blend of vision, charisma and the ability to inspire and influence others, regardless of position or title. Effective leaders can emerge at any level, and their ability to inspire, motivate, and influence others often stems from their personal qualities, charisma, and vision.

This original delineation made sense. Management was a practice, leadership a skill set. Thus, they are related but distinct concepts, each with its own importance in an organizational context.

However, in recent decades, this straightforward understanding has become needlessly muddled. There’s now a bizarre obsession with segregating “leadership” as a loftier pursuit reserved for the elite upper echelons, separate from the mundane tasks of “mere management.”

This attempt to segregate leadership as a superior pursuit is misguided and counterproductive.

Senior managers rebranding themselves as “leaders” is just ego-stroking corporate jargon. “Leaders” are supposedly focused on setting the strategic direction, creating a shared sense of purpose, and empowering others to reach their full potential – a description that is more delusive than inspirational.

In reality, the original understanding still holds true: Management is a role and set of practices. Leadership is a skill that managers at all levels must possess to be effective.  Everything else is just superfluous fluff meant to inflate executive egos. In essence, management and leadership are not opposing forces but rather complementary aspects essential for organizational success in today’s dynamic landscape.

For those truly open to evolved thinking, I’ll leave you with this insightful perspective from Professor Henry Mintzberg:

“Management and leadership are two sides of the same coin. They work together in the larger realm of ‘communityship.'”

In our modern knowledge economy, which demands a new paradigm linking life and work, that holistic view may be the most pragmatic lens through which to see this management vs. leadership debate.

(Originally answered on Quora.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *