Managing to lead

We hear a lot about leadership these days, and for good reason. Between the banking and automaker financial crises and subsequent government interventions, and in the fallout of such recent corporate frauds and scandals as Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, there is no better time in recent history to reflect on your own beliefs about leadership.

Leaders of the future will need to be different than they have been in the last few decades. Ethics and social responsibility are no longer optional in the field of leadership — rather, they have become foundational to it.

But something is being left behind — how to also be a good organizational manager.

It is a mistake to look at leadership and management as separate, unrelated processes. Yes, we all know that one can be a leader without being a manager, something that is drilled into everyone as the first stage in leadership awareness. However, if one is an organizational manager, and has the responsibility of direct-report employees, leadership then becomes a subset of that role.

Let’s examine this more closely in light of some common leadership rhetoric.

Rhetoric No. 1: The phrase, “Good managers do things right, great leaders do the right thing,” was a phrase originally coined by the late management guru Peter Drucker. It is often the basis for discussion of leadership understanding. The concept implies that the leader is some kind of hero and the manager is a process administrator. The reality is that the manager needs to do the right things the right way, and that might include leading people.

The idea that ethical leadership is not a management consideration is also a myth. Managers need to be ethical, not only in leading people, but also in developing action plan, and making organizational decisions. Managers need to do the “right thing” (and do things right), or they’ll probably lose their job, at least with any company that is trying to be competitive and concerned about sustaining an edge.

Rhetoric No. 2: John Kotter, in a 2001 article in Harvard Business Review, “What leaders really do,” told us that management is about dealing with complexity and leadership is about dealing with change — this may be a distinction without a difference. From the leadership perspective, when is organizational change not also significantly complex? And from the management perspective, how is the major “planning” function of management not associated with change?

Managers who cannot deal with change will be fired or will lead their companies into extinction, unless they have a monopoly or something else unique. The bottom line is that managers need to deal with change, and it is a big part of their job.

Henry Mintzberg, in “The Strategy Process: Concepts, Contexts, Cases,” wrote that leadership and management are usually treated as independent ideas, but it is perhaps impractical and maybe futile. Mintzberg described three managerial roles — to manage action, to manage people (through leading and networking) and to manage information. As such, the all-too-common phrases taken from Drucker and Kotter are interesting fodder, but not overly practical.

If you are a manager, be a good contrarian, and value management as much as leadership, and you’ll be doing your organization a big favor.

Dr. John Benson, founder of Bow-based employee development company Starpoint Business Solutions LLC, can be reached at 603-224-9384 or