Leader as manager

Strong leadership with weak management is no better, and sometimes is actually worse, than the reverse. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.
— John Kotter

This month we’ve been focusing on building organizational talent. Last month’s topic was customer service. I’d like to step back for a minute and think about why these activities are important to leadership. Aren’t they much more about tactical management?

Our teamKotter is preparing to facilitate an executive leadership development program, so I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at literature on leadership. One of the articles that I find very helpful is John Kotter’s What Leaders Really Do, (first published in Harvard Business Review and then in a book of the same name).

Kotter’s model helps explain why one of MnSCU’s four leadership competency domains focuses on leader as manager. He highlights the difference between leadership and management, and makes the case that both are needed:

  • Management is about coping with complexity. Managers bring order and consistency to key activities such as student enrollment or quality of the academic experience.
  • Leadership is about coping with change. Leaders look to the future and make sense of new educational technologies, changing student demographics, and new sources of competition.

Kotter argues that one of the best ways to develop strong leaders who are also strong managers is through on-the-job experience. This is vital for our new staff members, and continues to be important throughout their careers. As we help our people develop as leaders, it is essential to provide experiences that allow them to cope with both complexity and change.

As we address the challenges identified in the recent draft report on Charting the Future of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the MnSCU system will need to develop strong managers, strong leaders, and most importantly, people who can do both.  What kind of learning opportunities do you seek for yourself? What opportunities do you provide for the people you lead?

Dee Anne Bonebright


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