Leadership Vs Management Dichotomy

Posted on September 25, 2010


Personal Management, photo from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

A particular manager re-wrote one of her team members’ business memos in order to create a higher level of detail, clarity and succinctness, not wanting the crux of the message to go awry. When she’d finished, in conferring with the more junior employee, it was discovered that she’d so completely re-engineered the communiqué that much that the essence of the message was now lost. Fortunately, it wasn’t too late to re-embed this key item throughout–the memo eventually went out and everyone was, as a result, more the wiser.

Communication is a sticky business at the best of times, but there is even more to this issue than purely that of transmitting and receiving messages. There is a whole realm of leadership versus management philosophy and their associated dichotomies.

It is said that management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things. So what’s more important? The manager seemed motivated in doing things right to the neglect, potentially, of doing the right things i.e. nailing the actual message that needed to be communicated.

Communications is tricky because there’s both the message and the method to consider, not mentioning the media and a whole raft of other things, including timing, place, mood, people dynamics etc. This is both ‘the what’ and ‘the how’ and most people will recognise the how as being at times the most difficult. The how in this context is the managing function.

So, in this way, managing seems more difficult because it involves the use of discretion i.e. the ‘way’ of things based from reasons of the how. At times, we’re simply frightened in knowing how to do things even though we know we must do them i.e. we know ‘what’ to do.

We have numerous options as to the actual way, but the right way is not clear, and thus the various issues of the how cloud our judgment. Or simply, the how, whichever way we could do it, seems complex, difficult and something to avoid! Psychologists might call this an ‘avoidance-avoidance decision.’

The what, i.e. the function of leadership, is simply choosing or deciding to do something, and whilst it involves courage and wisdom to discern the right thing to do, and which way to go, it’s still quite transactional (in certain ways) compared with the how.

But, if we decide the how before the what we can get it completely wrong, hence the leadership / management dichotomy. The what must underpin the how and not the other way around. And oncethe what is understood, the how then takes over in significance… but the what must be kept in sight and in context throughout… confused?

Well, the memo at top is a good example of the manager not keeping the what in sharp focus, until both the manager and her subordinate colluded in final review, that is.

Even more interesting is the contrast in personality styles with the tasks of leadership and management. Some prefer to manage and others prefer to lead, and at times, never the twain shall meet!

In other words, some people will prefer setting direction and they’ll leave the details to others. These are the leaders; they seek to ‘do the right things.’ Those preferring a managing style will embrace and work on the detail provided the broader vision is known; they can then set about ‘doing things right.’

The key, however, is balance. One cannot survive totally without the other. All teams and all situations need a good, healthy blend of both with both functions giving way to the other at given points.

The question is, from a self-analysis viewpoint, what is your preferred style and skill? Are you predominantly more a leader or a manager? It’s an important thing to know about yourself.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Steve Wickham is a safety and health professional (BSc, MSIA, RSP) and a qualified, unordained Christian minister (GradDipBib&Min). He also has training and leadership Diplomas. His passion in vocation is facilitation and coaching; encouraging people to soar to a higher value of their potential. Steve’s key passion is work / life balance and re-creating value for living, and an exploration of the person within us.

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