Leadership vs. Management / by Scott Nichols

“Avoid managers who lack the expertise and relationships to justify the control they seek. Influence, best when earned.”

Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky’s quote reminds me of the important distinction between management and leadership.­­

A former associate of mine values management processes above leadership. Their assertion is that leadership isn’t sufficient on its own. To a certain extent this can be true, but it really depends on an objective’s level of uncertainty.

The problem is, when there is a high degree of uncertainty (show me an industry that doesn’t currently have a high degree of uncertainty), there isn’t any amount of management process that can lead you to an unknown solution. Even if you have an idea of what the solution is, you need the power of leadership to inspire and persuade others to follow you in times of uncertainty. You cannot achieve this with management processes alone. You can’t manage your way to innovation; management is best suited for what is known. You need leadership when the outcome or objective is new or unknown.

Management is best suited for objectives that have a high degree of certainty. This is why management processes evolved out a maturing industrial revolution. You can effectively manage an assembly line with management processes, because every task has a high degree of certainty. However, if you are trying to guide an organization that has been disrupted by uncertainty, such as the economy, technology or social change, what you really need is strong leadership not more management.

The tricky part is leadership can’t be taught. That is you can’t simply read a book on leadership and become a leader. You have to absorb the content, cultivate your personal character and implement the principles of leadership. This requires time and a meaningful commitment to personal growth and the active cultivation of the people around you. You can however, read a book on management a learn how to write memos, use schedules and create work plans; you can learn management processes.

If your organization is struggling with a high degree of uncertainty, you need to cultivate leadership. Identify the people who are natural leaders and provide them with a modicum of management tools and give them permission to lead. If you have some great managers, bombard them with a high degree of leadership training and measure their progress by asking the people they manage how they are doing as leaders. Put your best managers on production oriented tasks with a high degree of certainty, but put your leaders on the tasks with a high degree of uncertainty.

If your organization needs to figure out how to survive in a disrupted industry and you need solutions that are currently unknown, empower your natural leaders to find the path forward.

For more on leadership, take a look at Leadership: The Warrior’s Art, by Christopher Kolenda

Leadership: The Warriors Art