To Manage or To Lead? That is the Question

“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs

In today’s work climate, a debate is stirring regarding the differences between “leaders” and “managers” and whether or not a manager can be a leader. As this has always been an interest of mine, I find myself periodically reviewing new articles relevant to this discussion and wanted to take a few moments to share some thoughts regarding this topic.

Through much of my research, leaders and managers are loosely defined as polar opposites. Leaders are focused on the long term while managers focus on the daily operations; leaders view people as people while managers view staff by their title or position on the organizational chart, leaders accept responsibility for a team not achieving a goal while managers blame the teams production for not achieving a goal. Managers organize, leaders influence, mangers direct, leaders motivate; managers follow the rules, leaders accept risks. This dichotomy in the views of managers and leaders makes it hard to believe that in today’s work environment more and more managers are being forced to also be leaders.

Is this question really as black and white as it appears? Peter F. Drucker, an author and economist, revolutionized the way that management was viewed within companies and argued that in reality management most often succeeded when it revolved around leadership. Peter F. Drucker spent his career observing, he was quoted as saying he likes to “look out the window and see what’s visible but not yet seen.” Through his works, he identified the emergence of the “knowledge worker,” a shift in the basic thought process that identified that information is the key to the ability of “knowledge workers” to do their job. Considered by many as a pioneer, well ahead of his time, Drucker often discussed the importance of ensuring employees have a stronger sense of purpose, “they need to know the organization’s mission and to believe in it.” He also believed the functions of a manager were not only task based and ensuring the productivity of their workers but rather also managers were responsible for managing the social impacts and responsibilities. Even though most of Drucker’s work is unknown to younger generations, a brief glimpse into some of his works would prove peculiarly spot on in today’s work environments.

Having worked in various companies and various positions, I have continually found myself reflecting on this question. Through that reflection, I have found that there are situations that warrant both approaches and that management and leadership may truly rely on each other. As Drucker stated, “One does not ‘manage’ people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

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