Leadership versus management

“Leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are not the same thing. But they are necessarily linked, and complementary. Any effort to separate the two is likely to cause more problems than it solves.”  –Allan Murray

Differences between leadership and management have been debated over the last 50 years by well-known authors and thought leaders like John Kotter, Warren Bennis, and others. In fact, during my tenure at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, I’ve often been asked the questions, “What’s the difference between managers and leaders?  Do you have to be a leader to be a manager? Do you have to manage others in order to lead effectively?”

Bennis, who attempted to delineate the differences between managers and leaders in his 1989 book, On Becoming A Leader, said:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why
  • The manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it

One of his best known quotes is “Managers are people who do things right; leaders are people who do the right thing.”

While these distinctions are interesting, I often find them unhelpful. Within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, everyone from individual contributor to senior leaders CAN exercise leadership. And we need managers who demonstrate leadership ability to innovate, challenge the status quo, articulate a vision, ask the right questions, and inspire others to follow.

Over the next few months, we’ll be focusing on a set of MnSCU Leadership Competencies, titled: Leader as Manager. This set of competencies is a useful framework for all our leaders in formal supervisory or managerial roles and includes:

  • Builds Customer Service Orientation
  • Builds Organizational Talent
  • Demonstrates Good Stewardship

Leader as manager competencies reinforce the idea that leadership and management must go hand in hand. They are inextricably linked.

In thinking about my own leadership, I tend to demonstrate some of Bennis’s characteristics of managers AND leaders. I have a difficult time staying in one camp or the other. For instance, there are times that I administer and other times that I innovate. When I’m feeling truly motivated,  I can also keep one eye on the bottom line and the other eye on the horizon. What about you?

Anita Rios


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