If you’ve read any business blogs over the past few years, you’ve probably seen some sort of stock “Leadership is better than management” post. It always seems to be an either/or proposition, too.
In that post, you’ll invariably read the author extol the power that leadership brings to typical management challenges: workers who don’t perform well, don’t always do what you ask them to do, or engage in behaviors that discourage their colleagues. Becoming a better leader, they say, will help you avoid these challenges more easily because people will be inspired to do what you ask them without you have to be a big bad boss. And who likes bosses, right? We like leaders.
Of course, I’ve never written about that. Not because I don’t think leadership skills have value (indeed, they do) but because rarely have the people I have seen manage employees exhibit one trait or the other singularly. The pure leader and the pure manager are as common as a unicorn.
Thank goodness, too.
Can we admit to ourselves that the great recognized leaders of our time also had some fantastic management skills as well? Can we also admit that had they chosen to shun management for pure leadership, they would have been seen as abject failures?
Okay, probably not. Yet.
If you take an example from the sports world, coaches have to be good at both leadership and management to be successful in their field. If you’re in a basketball game with the game on the line with the final possession, you have to both inspire your team to be great (even after a brutally long game) and know that you have the right game plan that your players will follow to the end.
Basketball players, even great ones, question their coaches (even, yes, great ones). With limited time to brainstorm possibilities with your team though, the coach is the focal point of drawing up this final play. Whether or not you question the coach on his decision, you are going to follow through on it because you know there are consequences for not doing so.
That final play outcome is going to be driven by authority and by good management. If a coach can’t do that, they aren’t going to win consistently.
Take an example from politics. A president can be great at leading and inspiring people without being super effective at their job because they seem unwilling (or unable) to drive results through authority and managing people and results. Is that an unfair jab at President Obama? A bit, sure. But every time I hear about our obstructionist Congress (which, they are), I hear about it from someone who doesn’t want the President to do the same things his predecessors did to drive their agendas.
The point is: you need leadership and management. The best leaders, the ones we laud, do both.