Leadership vs Management

This is a continuing series on Leadership Development

In my previous post, I defined what is a leader. I said a leader is someone who uses the skill of power over others towards a vision. The key pieces here being that leadership is a skill that one can get better at. And that leadership involves power with others. We also explored how the Dao De Jing states different forms of leadership or governance and that leadership.

This is important in my job as a leader. At the Monastic Academy (MAPLE), our training aims to develop trustworthy leaders through the integration of Wisdom, Love (Virtue), and Power. As the Executive Director, I hold the pole of Power in the organization leadership most strongly. 

The view in East Asian Buddhism and Daoism is that one indicator for a trustworthy person to have power is that they are the ones who least want it. Power is a resource, is a skill, is a means to achieve particular ends. But, when power becomes its own end then we have a lot of problems. Just as money, fame, or health as its own ends can become unhealthy so can power. A healthy integration is possible. We can use money, power, fame as a conditional means to achieve a higher aim such as wisdom and compassion for all beings.

So far, we have established a leader is one who holds power over people. They direct a group of people towards a vision, they provide direction. At MAPLE, we train trustworthy leaders who can wield power responsibly with wisdom and virtue such that power never becomes its own end but rather a means to greater good.

However, I did not address that there are different forms of power over others. Leadership is one specific form. But what about a teacher with students? What about a manager?

Reading this article in the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, What Leaders Really Do, they differentiate between a manager and a leader. Both hold power. Both work with groups. Both are needed to run effective organizations and causes. But, there is a difference. As John P. Kotter writes:

LEADERSHIP IS DIFFERENT FROM MANAGEMENT, but not for the reasons most people think. Leadership isn’t mystical and mysterious. It has nothing to do with having “charisma” or other exotic personality traits. It is not the province of a chosen few. Nor is leadership necessarily better than management or a replacement for it. Rather, leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. Each has its own function and characteristic activities. Both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment….

Management is about coping with complexity. Its practices and procedures are largely a response to one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century: the emergence of large organizations. Without good management, complex enterprises tend to become chaotic in ways that threaten their very existence. Good management brings a degree of order and consistency to key dimensions like the quality and profitability of products. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Part of the reason it has become so important in recent years is that the business world has become more competitive and more volatile…The net result is that doing what was done yesterday, or doing it 5% better, is no longer a formula for success. Major changes are more and more necessary to survive and compete effectively in this new environment. More change always demands more leadership….

…Since change is the function of leadership, being able to generate highly energized behavior is important for coping with the inevitable barriers to change. Just as direction setting identifies an appropriate path for movement and just as effective alignment gets people moving down that path, successful motivation ensures that they will have the energy to overcome obstacles. According to the logic of management, control mechanisms compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected. In a well-managed factory, for example, this means the planning process establishes sensible quality targets, the organizing process builds an organization that can achieve those targets, and a control process makes sure that quality lapses are spotted immediately, not in 30 or 60 days, and corrected. For some of the same reasons that control is so central to management, highly motivated or inspired behavior is almost irrelevant. Managerial processes must be as close as possible to fail-safe and risk-free. That means they cannot be dependent on the unusual or hard to obtain. The whole purpose of systems and structures is to help normal people who behave in normal ways to complete routine jobs successfully, day after day. It’s not exciting or glamorous…Leadership is different. Achieving grand visions always requires a burst of energy. Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals.
(bolding is mine)

Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

Thus, a leader deals even more in the uncertainty of change and newness. A leader is precisely the leader because that’s the person everyone turns to when it’s not clear what to do anymore. 

A manager “manages”. They make sure everything is on schedule, on track with plans. 

A leader “leads”. They are the ones who set the direction, who set the vision of where the group is going in the first place before any plans are made. A leader is the one who clarifies what and why we are doing anything.

Both managers and leaders deal with power in a group. While there are many managers out there, there are less true leaders. 

If I reflect on my own life, I would say I had a lot of self-leadership and was a manager in previous jobs, but it’s only at MAPLE that I truly started growing to become a leader of a group. As long as we are not the ones setting the vision, setting the direction, as long as we’re operating within pre-existing norms and systems then we are not a leader but rather a manager. To be sure, being a good manager is very difficult and needed in groups too. But, these days, and Kotter would agree, most organizations are “over-managed and underled”.

While Kotter is talking about the business and corporate world, leadership is important for everyone’s life. Especially in society today as the rate of global change accelerates. It is more important than ever to cultivate leadership qualities and not depend on the collapsing systems of what has worked before. As we face more uncertainty with each growing year, the necessity for strong, good leaders grows as well. 

In future posts, given the need for leaders and the countless “leadership development” programs out there, we will explore why don’t we have more good leaders? What are the blocks?


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