Leaders and managers have a lot more in common with each other than they know. When we think of leadership we often envision a knight in shining armor galloping across a field of battle on a strong white steed, vanquishing all those who dare oppose him. On the flipside when management comes to mind we are more likely to picture a balding, pudgy 50 year old man in an ill fitting suit, sitting in a dimly lit office combing joylessly through a mountain of quarterly reports. But in reality managers have to know how to ride a horse and leaders have to learn how to hunker down in a small dark room every now and again. So I think it’s time to bridge this semantically chasm. Leaders aren’t gods and managers aren’t drones.
When we think of leaders we think of people who can rally people around them and lead them onto great heights. Leadership is about rallying those around you and getting things done. When we think of managers we think of people who can handle the day to day tasks that allow an organization to move forward. Proper logistics aren’t heroic, but without them no amount of inspired leadership will save your company from the ash-heap of history. Despite the fact there aren’t many “Great Managers of All Time” books floating around out there, their logistical skills are a must for all leaders to learn and if they can, master.
We tend to lionize our leaders and marginalize our managers but the skills of both occur at every level of an organization and neither one can live without the other. There are times when you need a leader and their particular skills. If you know exactly what needs to be done but can’t figure out how to get people to go along with you, then you need a leader not a manager. One of the major challenges of leadership is finding a way to effectively persuading skeptics and potential allies to join your coalition. Managers can get the initial support of people, they can get others to listen and reflect. But only someone with strong leadership skills can get the buy-in necessary to bring people to their side. This is one of those moments where everyone needs leadership skills to move forward. Managers will never go beyond a certain level without getting a certain level of buy-in from those around them.
On the other hand if you have a core group of adherents who have bought into your agenda it really won’t do much good unless you have the skills to take them across the finish line. Think of your agenda as a plant. In the early stages a plant’s root system is weak and easy to uproot. As its roots take hold they provide the foundation for future growth and stability. You can get build an agenda and get people on your side, but if you don’t have the skills of a manager, the skills of execution and logistics, then you face an uncertain future. Getting people on your side is a big challenge but if you can’t execute, implement and manage change you will come up short.
In the final analysis, we need to remove the imagined boundary between leadership and management. Both leaders and managers need the others particular skill set to get beyond inertia, because in the end no one wants a manager who can’t lead or a leader who can’t manage.