Do Leaders Over-Lead and Under-Manage?

iStock_000015597301SmallMuch has been written about the difference between leaders and managers.

“Leaders are people who do the right thing,” note leadership experts Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003). “Managers are people who do things right.”
“It has become popular to talk about us being over-managed and under-led. I believe we are now over-led and under-managed.” – Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing: What Managers Do—and Can Do Better (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)

As they further explain: “There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.”

While this distinction is correct, it has unintended negative effects. Some leaders
believe their job is about coming up with big ideas, being the visionaries. They
dismiss executing these ideas, engaging in conversation and planning the details as
mere “management” work.

Worse still, many leaders cite this distinction as the reason why they’re entitled to avoid the hard work of learning about the people they lead, the processes their companies use and the customers they serve.

Thousands of leadership-development courses are available, and people usually become excited when they’re fast-tracked for leadership programs. But you rarely hear anyone voice excitement about receiving training to become a better manager. Which is such a crucial role in the success of the big picture.

Have we become so enamored with the mythos of “leadership” that we ignore the rudiments of rock-solid “management”?

Mintzberg, a professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal, says it well: “Just as management without leadership encourages an uninspired style, which deadens activities, leadership without management encourages a disconnected style, which promotes hubris.”

Perhaps we need to clarify responsibilities of leadership and embrace management as a necessary component of leadership. In the work I do in organizations, I see so much emphasis on leadership and not attention paid on what that actually means and entails.

What do you think? What is your experience with leadership vs. management?
I’d love to hear from you.


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