Leadership vs. Management; A Progressive Role

Core Values Series

The best way to begin a discussion of leadership vs. management maybe with a Venn Diagram.  On the bottom line, there is no real opposition between leaders and managers. Yes, there is a cliche that while a “manager” accepts a reactive, problem-solving role, a leader is made of different stuff: proactive, agenda-setting, and industry-disrupting.  

We will make the case that the best of what good managers do contains the seeds of great leadership skills. The latter is the culmination of the former.   

Each circle to the left represents a valuable quality in a business or entrepreneurial leader. We will, of course, say more about each of these below. The intersection of these qualities produces a distinctive and valuable management style. The overlap of all three contributes to genuine leadership.  

The Three Qualities of Leadership   

The first point that all great business leaders must understand, a point represented by the plum-colored circle on our diagram, is that counting value is not the same thing as creating value. Of course, there is nothing wrong with counting value: somebody has to gather the data in reports to the array of actual and potential creditors or investors who want to know about enterprise value. But the task of measuring for the sake of doing so has diminishing returns.   

Consider a diamond cutter. She is turning an already valuable raw material into something of great beauty, and thus greater value. However, suppose she is interrupted by a manager every quarter-hour to track how much cutting she has done. In that case, the interruptions not only aren’t going to contribute to value, but they are going to hinder it.  Thoughtful managers will know when to stay out of the way. But, more generally, thoughtful managers keep their eyes on the task of creating the value that justifies the existence of the enterprise.  

The second key point for our managers, who would be leaders, a point represented by the teal circle in our diagram, is that they will be part of a “circle of influence,” not a ladder of power. Mere managers have subordinates and concern themselves, perhaps out of self-defense, with office politics. As they approach leadership, though, they both exert themselves to influence. Further, they cease to concern themselves a good deal with where on the organizational chart their influences come from.     

Influence happens when one can exude confidence without making any effort to intimidate. A fear-based workplace, after all, is not only a lousy place to work but is very likely unproductive.   


The third point? In the ideal sense, managers who would become strong leaders inspire and motivate their teams to achieve. The set of all inspirational management is represented by the yellow circle above.   

Richard Branson is widely regarded as a successful manager/leader on the inspirational model. He says his leadership style is, “If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of your shareholders.”   

Aside from taking care of his employees in the material sense, Branson has conveyed a customer-centered ethos to his employees across several businesses. As he describes, their job is to offer customers experiences that they can “enjoy, relate to, or aspire to.”      

The extensive literature on management has a lot to say about each of the three qualities we have discussed. Moreover, one can find repeated testaments to the power of management styles representing some intersection of two of these three sets. We will move to those intersections now.   

Coaching, Transforming, Participating    

Coaching as a management skill typically means creating a collaboration between the manager and the “team members” that empowers everyone involved. Recall our diamond cutter. Shaping a diamond into its most excellent ready-for-retail shape is a tricky task involving specialized knowledge, tools, and techniques.   

A good leader will want to work with someone highly qualified in the skill, be sure the cutter has the right tools, offer encouragement, and stand back. The manager might regard a good cutter the way a baseball manager views a star pitcher. However, the team leader/coach could go further than that. If the organization allows him to concern himself with pay and benefits, he might work to realign the incentives for his star cutter.  

As our Venn Diagram indicates, the “coaching” paradigm understands the nature of value creation and uses circles of influence (not structures of power) to achieve that end.   

A transformational management style is one in which the leader’s eyes are set firmly on the top of a mountain. Consider a literal example: a mountain climbing team. The leader has chosen Kilimanjaro as the strategic vision and has likely kept that in mind through a litany of difficulties, perhaps challenging the status quo at every step. Until now, on a specific date, the team is on the mountain’s slopes, working together, each member valued for their skill set for the summit.  

When there are troubles (and there will be), the visionary manager will be honest with the team about the nature of the difficulties, will remind them of their commitment to the goal, and draw the best out of the team participants toward that end. They will find that they have been transformed into mountaineers if they were not before, or transformed in any case into a higher grade of the mountaineer.    

The transformational paradigm uses circles of influence to achieve the common end and inspires the participants.   

The Participatory Style   

Managers with a participatory style may see themselves as servants and managers. It is worth noting that one of the traditional titles of the Catholic Pope is “the servant of the servants of God.” Certain corporate managers may see themselves as the servants of the servants of the customers.   

Branson said, as quoted above, “If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of your shareholders.” Any particular project management task can be understood as a microcosm of that macrocosm.  

Or consider a retail business with many brick-and-mortar storefronts. There will be a managerial role whose job description is to see to the design of the storefronts and floor designs of one or a group of these stores. That manager may take his team into his confidence and choose among options collegially. The manager will make the final call and move forward with the team’s ideas. But during the deliberative process, this sort of manager need not take a dominant role. Instead, one often leads by listening. 

The participatory style represents the final of the three intersections in our diagram above: it can and will inspire and is concerned with creating value and implementing processes.  

The Final Step  

The next step in our reasoning is the final one. The ideal management/leadership role is the person who accepts all three insights and combines all three strategies discussed thus far. And that person, in the language we began, is not a manager at all: that person has become a leader, perhaps a great leader, where greatness is understood to encompass both day-to-day responsibilities and a Big Picture for the long term. 

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