Leadership is a fascinating topic and one that I have studied for many years. As a member of our Armed Forces, many of the lessons I have learned in “the arts of leadership and management” have come in the form of experiences with others as well as from information learned in Professional Military Education, or PME, as we call it in the United States Air Force. As I supplement life’s experiences with college courses on these topics, I always find myself thinking of the leaders I have met in my career and how theoretical concepts may or may not apply to them. Two of the questions that often come up in both military and civilian settings is whether or not a leader must be an effective manager, and if a manager can be effective without having honed leadership abilities.
Yet again, I came across a frequently quoted sentence that is said to make a clear distinction between leadership and management: “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing” (Bennis and Nanus, 1985, as cited in Northouse, 2016, p. 14). Although I agree that leadership and management often overlap, I don’t completely agree with the ideas that one must be an effective leader to be an effective manager, but that one can be an effective leader without necessarily being an effective manager.
First, I don’t think that one must be an “effective leader” in order to be an “effective manager”. Our PSYCH485 class and its “Introduction to Leadership” lesson touched on many management concepts, how they relate to business situations and tie into the leadership and management of an organization (PSU WC, 2019, L1). It was suggested that management generally focuses on routine activities that keep a group or organization in motion. With that in mind, I thought about the many managers I have met in my career who were just that – effective managers. Even though they were great at managing personnel, resources and tasks, some of them simply could not lead people.
As the saying goes, “They could not lead a horse to water, let alone to drink it.” They lacked either emotional intelligence, technical competence or self-efficacy amongst other things and this often resulted in people not believing in them. If subordinates cannot respect or trust their leader, the leadership position they hold becomes nothing more than a “title” within the organization. Thus, I would suggest that lack of belief from followers translates into ineffective leadership, but do admit that some of the people I have worked for have turned out to be effective managers who were precise and highly skilled when dealing with the day-to-day tasks.
On the other hand, I partially agree with the idea that one can be an effective leader without necessarily being an effective manager. While leaders often do engage in organizational management tasks, they don’t necessarily need to be great at managing in order for people to follow and believe in them. Such is the case with some of the military leaders who can innately inspire and motivate others.
When referring to an old boss, my friend Rene, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, would always say that he was such a great leader that “His Marines would follow him to a battle in hell, even if they were armed with nothing but ice cubes!” According to Rene, his boss was motivating and incredibly inspiring on the battlefield, yet, he was highly ineffective in administrative and office-type environments.
I have met my share of great leaders who have been the “not-so-great” managers and thus, I would suggest that you can have a great leader without having a great manager. Good leaders often get involved with routine management tasks, and although I believe that “leadership” and “management” tasks often overlap, I would say that those leaders who spend time working and learning about the jobs of others within their organization will gain credibility. Indeed, this can help them earn the respect from those around them, but this may not necessarily be what makes them effective leaders in the first place.
As we continue learning about leadership theories and practices, I’ll be looking for how much truth there is to managers doing things right, and leaders doing the right things.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 1: Introduction to Leadership. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.