A linguistic shift that is damaging how we think about the relationship between management and leadership

I am increasingly startled and professionally concerned by what appears to be a vilification of ‘management’ and an almost idolatrous worship of ‘leadership’ through the plethora of posts, articles and other items distributed through professional networking sites and e-shots. These seem to increasingly vilify the notion of ‘management’ and the opposite for the notion of ‘leadership’.

Why has the concept of ‘management’ become reviled?

Perhaps the issue lies in the fact that both terms seem to be increasingly used as Collective Nouns for:

a) In the case of ‘management’, all the negative or less effective behaviours that a person in a position of team responsibility may exhibit, and;
b) In the case of ‘leadership’, all the positive and more effective behaviours that might be exhibited by someone in a position of team responsibility.

Perhaps it is time to go back to basic principles from Management Development 101, and remind ourselves that the positive behaviours and practices of both dimensions are critical to being successful when in a position of responsibility. They are complementary to each other and we need to find and develop the right balance between the positive dimensions of both, dependent on where we sit in the corporate ‘work-chain’ and what it is that we are required to do. A lot of the negative ‘management’ stereotypes that have developed seem to be powerful to the point that I often work with younger professionals who perceive the whole concept of ‘management’ as something they do not want to be associated with.

What is the true relationship between managing and leading?

John Kotter’s work perhaps gives us the simplest way of looking at the relationship between management and leadership.

The loss of focus on the relationship between the two is perhaps due to the increasing coverage regarding what people believe ‘Millenials’ need from their bosses in ‘the modern workplace’. This has almost exclusively focused on dimensions more traditionally associated with positive ‘leadership’ behaviour: social engagement, being part of the conversation, looking for a sense of purpose etcetera.

At the same time, the blockers to employee engagement are often described as negative behaviours associated with ‘management’, such as: micro-management, lack of trust and excessive command and control, rather than an absence of positive leadership behaviours!

When we consider the table, it starts to be fairly obvious that both dimensions are essential for success. The use of managerial behaviour is critical for the maintenance of the organisation: the planning of work and its distribution, creating the necessary frameworks and budgets, monitoring and evaluating performance and solving problems to name but a few. Alongside these frameworks and conditions being met, we also have to develop the society of the organisation: peoples’ relationships, sense of self-worth, motivation and connection to the goals of the business, self-regulating behavioural frameworks and human connectivity; which is of course where leadership behaviours are essential.

How do we bring the term ‘management’ in from the cold?

Perhaps a simple answer to the challenge of being able to recognise the value that both bring, is to find ways of ensuring that ‘doing things right’, and ‘doing the right things’ start to be spoken about more synonymously than by mutual exception.

When we allow ourselves to stop and think about the nature of work and the responsibilities associated with being in a position of ‘authority and care’, it is obvious that we want people in those positions to be highly competent in both areas; not just attracted by the bright lights of ’leading’, and shunning the critical requirements of ‘managing’ – a situation that has to an extent, been brought about by ill thought through popularist social media stereotyping.