Leadership Myth #6 – Leadership and Management are in Opposition

As young Officer Cadets our late night conversations, once the obvious topics had been exhausted, would turn to leadership. It was a topic of some significance to us, given that our training was all oriented towards preparing us for the day that we would receive a Queen’s Commission and become “leaders of men”. (At that time the Canadian Forces were overwhelmingly male and our stereotypes and thinking reflected that context.)

“Leadership” was seen as an heroic thing, something that “real men” did. “Management” was a lesser thing, the province of “pencil-necked geeks” with calculators and pocket protectors. Leaders got things done. Managers ran along behind protesting shrilly.

Of course, our thinking was as adolescent as we were.

That being said, vestiges of this thinking persist (although usually not expressed so crassly). Books and seminars on “leadership” enjoy brisk sales to the general public. “Management” as a topic enjoys far less adulation. Our culture idolizes the charismatic figure who promises to “make things better” even, and perhaps especially, if they are vague on what “better” is and how they propose we get there.  I doubt that you have ever heard the term “leadership wonk” but we have all heard the term “policy wonk”. “Policy wonks”, poor folks, are burdened with deep understanding and extensive experience which compels them to recognize the complexities and nuances of an issue. “Leaders”, unhindered by such trivia, are able to “get things done”. Unfortunately, their “solution” may well contain the seeds of its own undoing.

Peter Drucker, the great theorist credited with inventing “management” as a discipline, observed: management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” That’s a profound insight, but how do you know what is the “right thing” to do? Perhaps that will be informed, at least in part, by the insights of (whisper it) “management”. Louis XIV of France was a martial king enamoured of aggressively expanding his country’s territory and influence at whatever expense. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, his Finance Minister, observed “aucune pistes, aucune suisses” (no money, no troops). Louis achieved many notable successes on the battlefield, however he left his country bankrupt and, in the opinion of some historians, set the conditions that eventually led to the French Revolution.

Are you or your organization struggling with building an effective partnership between leadership and management? How would a skilled and experienced thinking partner help you to discover a way forward that works for your situation? Let’s talk about it!