Action Wheel Leadership

Leadership Versus Management

Action Wheel Leadership Site Map

What is the Difference Between
Leadership and Management?

by Dr. Robert Terry, author of Authentic Leadership: Courage In Action

Leadership Versus Management, and Technical Expertise

Leadership Versus Management

In order to introduce leadership program participants to the enigma of leadership, I ask them the tough leadership questions raised by current leadership studies. One question is this: Are the categories of leadership, management, and expertise clearly distinguishable, do they overlap, or are they useless and not worth maintaining?

After a discussion, the participants are asked to vote. Typically, about one-third of them think the categories overlap, and no one votes for the last option. I think the appeal of the second option is that the intellectual task of defending it seems less onerous.

John Kotter (1990) is one theorist who argues clearly and persuasively for the first position.

Leadership and management are distinct and the differences crucial for understanding change. Management, Kotter argues, copes with complexity.

In contrast, leadership copes with change. In coping with complexity, "good management brings a degree of order and consistency to key dimensions like the quality of profitability of products."

Leadership, in contrast, focuses on the larger context for action and attends to the changes that are shaping the bureaucracy itself. Within this change context, managers plan and budget, organize and staff, and control and solve problems. In contrast, leaders establish direction, align people, and motivate and inspire. 

Leadership Versus Management Quote

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." ~Peter F. Drucker

Leadership Versus Management and The Action Wheel:

In terms of the Authentic Action Wheel framework, both management and leadership expend energy (power). Leadership, however, tends toward mission and meaning, management toward structure and resources. Kotter's distinctions are crisp and useful and merit serious attention by theorists and practitioners alike.

Authentic action theory enriches Kotter's analyses by pinpointing a potential trap for both positional leaders and managers. If change and complexity threaten positional leaders' coping capacity, they tend to preoccupy themselves with power. Managers threatened by change give undue attention to structure.

Value and direction lose currency as leaders seek political advantage. Likewise, managers tend to take their attention away from the energy necessary to inspirit organizational action and to preoccupy themselves with organizational maintenance and monitoring. But do managers need to be concerned with energizing?

The picture becomes more complicated when technical expertise is added to the litany of role problems. Technical experts match resources to structural problems, offering advice, counsel, and hands-on informed practice. When threatened, instead of attending to their expert contribution to the organization, they may preoccupy themselves with their own importance. They focus backward, from structure to resources, afraid that change will render their skills unnecessary.

Leadership vs Management...Going Beyond Position

Authentic action challenges leaders, managers, and technical experts to remain authentic, face their fears of changing complexity, and courageously take on the essential tasks of their roles.

But is not leadership more profound and widespread than position? Does it not transcend roles and call all people to engage in real work and authentic action? A leading expert, a leading manager, and a leading leader all have one thing in common. Each practices authentic engagement, framing issues for himself or herself and others by moving counter-clockwise around the Action Wheel.

That engagement is positional leaders', managers', and experts' deepest and most salutary action. Thus, authentic action both affirms the distinction between leadership versus management, and technical expertise and pushes beyond it, to a deeper unity of purpose and value.

Related Pages:

A Definition of Leadership

Ethics in Leadership

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