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How to Balance Management and Leadership in Your Organization

Written by James O. Rodgers

Business people in a meeting
With all this talk about organizations being over-led and under-managed, it can be easy to forget that, at one time, we had the exact opposite problem. Most organizations were arguably over-managed and under-led until about 30 years ago, when several academics recognized this trend. These academics started a movement that we call the leadership movement.

Unfortunately, that movement has overachieved: people fell in love with the word ‘leader,’ and they thought that because we were over-managed and under-led, we needed to switch 100 percent to leadership and ignore management.

In order to keep from making the same mistakes we made in the past, we need to keep a historical perspective when we talk about the topic of over-led/under-managed companies.

What I’m calling for is balance: as we emphasize management, we can’t also under-emphasize leadership.

Complementary Roles

Just like management, leadership is a critical component of success. By itself, however, it only produces organizations where everybody knows where we’re going—but perhaps nobody knows how to get there.

Knowing where we’re going is only part of the job. The other part of the job is knowing how to get there. This is the difference between leaders and managers, and it’s why a successful organization needs to emphasize both roles. Leaders have the very important job of helping the organization understand how it will succeed and where it is headed. The manager has the equally important role of supporting employees in their daily quest to reach the organization’s goals.

If we’re going to maintain the world-class results that we’ve gotten so used to, U.S. companies need to strive for a situation where management is equally as important as leadership.

Strike a balance, but don’t confuse the two: be clear about the definitions, and ensure that everybody knows what their role is and knows how to execute it. Hold everybody accountable for carrying out their specific roles: either as a leader, or a manager, or both.

Does Diversity Matter in the Boardroom?

Written by James O. Rodgers

Group gathering and brainstorming

A company’s board is, essentially, a set of high-level consumer advocates: the board advocates for the customers of the business, so that managers know what customers want and what the board expects management to deliver.

The board has the responsibility to provide the overall direction of the organization; it is then management’s job to execute that direction.

The problem is that most boards have gotten into the habit of perpetuating kind. They hire board members from the same sorts of talent pools over and over again. In other words: large, major Corporation A hires board members who also ran large, major corporations B and C. The belief is that companies need people who have run corporations in the past to run their company in the present.

My contention is that is not what companies need, and doing so risks their becoming out of touch with consumers, and prevents them from delivering the best results.

The “Expert Model” Trap

Most organizations fall into the trap of the expert model they believe the best leaders are the so-called experts who have led other, similar-sized organizations. What we’ve discovered through Deliberate Diversity is that experts never come up with a more complete answer than a broad set of diverse opinions. Diverse perspectives will always outperform even the foremost expert. Corporate boards need to start understanding that.

When boards fail to understand this, they underperform. We see this when boards are blindsided by their companies going out of business, or when board members have no clue that management is misbehaving, or when boards simply do what the CEO tells them to do.

When boards act this way, they fail to serve as customer advocates, because they have no idea what customers want. They’re listening to high-level executives, not consumers.

Diversity in the Boardroom

What companies need is people on the board who can look at a CEO’s suggestions with the courage to say, “No, this is unacceptable. We can’t do that, and here’s why.”

Every board needs a broad range of perspectives on the business and how it presents itself in the marketplace. They’re not going to get that from people who only think about it from the CEO or CMO level. Organizations need board members who look at it from the consulting standpoint, for example, or the operations standpoint.

They also need people who look at it strictly from the customer standpoint: mid-level folks who understand the impact the business is having on society. These people can report vital information, such as what people are saying, what messages the company is missing, and what the company is failing to do well.

A diverse board puts high-level leadership in touch with customers and all levels of the company, resulting in a more efficient, effective, and innovative business.

Overall, there’s a plethora of reasons why diversity is important at the board level—and a plethora of reasons why we’re doing such a poor job of it now. The goal, then, is ensure that the board has a mix of diverse perspectives that can speak to the concerns of all consumers and company members.

Why Every Non-Profit Needs a Strong Manager

Written by James O. Rodgers

Manager sitting at table with employees

Unlike many commercial organizations, non-profits do a very good job of sending the message of who they are. Non-profits have narrow focuses, and their clear visions and missions are exactly what attract employees. People come to work for non-profits because they buy into the vision; they’re dedicated and passionate about the mission.

Because of this, the leadership job becomes very easy: leaders don’t really have to rally their employees around big goals. Employees were rallied the moment they signed up.

Unfortunately, non-profits tend to fall short in one crucial way: they overlook the importance of management.

Moving the Needle through Management

When you look at a non-profit, you can always see the enthusiasm, but you don’t often see the results. That’s because managers aren’t doing their jobs to corral the energy, passion, and enthusiasm of the employees and direct it toward those specific actions that actually make a difference and produce the results the agency is seeking.

People arrive every day enthusiastic and passionate, but they slowly lose that enthusiasm because they don’t see results from their efforts. Without managers that can help direct them towards the best use of their skills and their energy, employees cannot contribute their best all the time.

As with any organization, a non-profit needs to be doing something to move the needle to reach their goals every single day. That’s the manager’s job.

Avoiding the Trap

Because of their narrow focuses and clear visions, non-profits of all types are susceptible to over-led and under-managed workforces. To ensure that employees keep their passion — and achieve real results — a non-profit needs strong management, just like any other organization would.

Non-profits who want to see real results need to avoid the trap of poor management. To do this, each non-profit organization should take the following three steps:

  1. Train Your Managers. Non-profits tend to do a relatively poor job of training people to do their jobs—including managers. Often, non-profits make a deadly assumption when they hire people: You were good where you were before, so you should be good here.

    These non-profits assume that someone who has demonstrated functional skills will also be good at managing groups of people to deliver specific outcomes. This, of course, is not necessarily the case. Therefore, non-profits need to train their managers and ensure that all managers are clear on the difference between their technical role and their role as a manager.


  1. Hire Carefully. As is the case for any company, non-profits need to hire intelligently and efficiently, with an eye toward results. To get the “right types of people on the bus,” non-profits need to consider the value that each potential employee’s particular skills, mindset, and perspective could bring to the organization.


  1. Hold Managers Accountable for Results. Managers should add value—that is, people should perform better under managers than they would by themselves. Otherwise, they’re superfluous.

    This is key for effective management anywhere. Follow Marcus Buckingham’s advice and have managers ask themselves, “Are people more effective working for me than not?” If the answer is ‘no,’ then that person needs to get out of the way; they’re preventing results.

Don’t Get Swept Up in Leadership—Recognize the Value of Management

Written by James O. Rodgers

Two people discussing over a laptop

Some writers might tell you that management is simply an imitation of leadership, or that leaders and managers are one and the same these days.

Nothing could be further from the truth: managers can’t copy leaders—they serve two very different functions. Leaders point the way; managers develop the means for that way to be achieved.

So, how do we combat the rapid expansion of the leadership obsession? How do we change popular perceptions of management so that every organization sees the true value of its managers?

We start with articles like this one.

Spark a Conversation

A conversation, of course, requires multiple participants. Luckily, I am not alone in this endeavor: a number of my colleagues are taking up the mantle of management as well. They recognize that we’ve overstated the importance of leadership, and we’ve underplayed the importance of management.

Now we’re talking about it more. We’re starting conversations, we’re developing training, we’re speaking about the issue: in short, we’re offering tools to remind people of the importance of management.

It can be easy to forget how important management is from a productivity and performance standpoint, but managers are truly the backbones of any organization. Leaders don’t do the hard work. They take a big-picture view, and they say “Strategically, when I look at the marketplace and the future, here’s what we need to do to survive.” Then, they simply repeat their vision over and over again.

The manager does the taxing work of translating leadership visions into real actions that achieve results: selecting the right people, making sure that they have the tools they need to perform, encouraging them, supporting them, developing them, etc.

Recognize the Consequences of Bad Management

The other thing that needs to happen to change the perception of management is that people need to be reminded of the impact of poor management. Most of us know it, we just don’t focus on it, and bad management can be devastating, from a recruitment and retention standpoint.

When an employee leaves an organization unexpectedly, they rarely—if ever—leave because they disagree with leadership or dislike the company’s mission or goal. In fact, the most common reason why employees leave is because of their relationship with their manager.

Good management, then, is important for preventing high turnover rates, which is a costly problem for any organization.

Without managers, nothing gets done: managers, after all, are the ones who oversee projects, ensure deadlines are met, and enable people to contribute at their highest levels. As long as companies see managers as copies or extensions of leadership, they won’t be able to achieve real results.

Management Still Matters: Supervising the Over-Led and Under-Managed Workforce

Written by James O. Rodgers

Management versus leadership
At the team level and throughout organizations of all sizes, a lot of good management is taking place. The problem is that we often refer to that good management as “leadership.” By doing so, we confuse the people who are really doing the hard work of day-to-day, face-to-face interface with employees, the people who make sure that every employee has everything required to be successful.

The fact that we’re obsessed with leadership means that we often fail to acknowledge the good work of great managers. Therefore, managers don’t spend as much of their energy on perfecting the discipline of management. Instead, they try to show themselves as good leaders—though the job really does not call for that.

Part of the reason why so much rhetoric and conversation deals with the leadership obsession is because people don’t really understand the differences between leadership and management—or why management still matters.

Big Picture and Hands Off: the Leader’s Role

Leaders in organizations of all sizes serve a detached role. Their job is to point all members of the organization in the direction that the organization is going.
Management still matters
For instance, look at a major company like Procter & Gamble. The leaders of that organization have one message for all of their employees: We’re focused on trusted brands. Do whatever you can do to help develop and promote a trusted brand.

The same holds true for mid-sized organizations. Many organizations have overall leadership goals such as growing market share or improving visibility in the markets. The leader’s job is to rally everyone around these high-level goals by consistently keeping these goals in front of them.

But when you get deeper into the organization, everybody starts asking the same question: What do I, specifically, do to produce that outcome?

That’s where managers come in.

One-on-One and Supportive: the Manager’s Role

People working inside organizations need guidance and support. The manager’s job is to make sure that all employees have the guidance and support they need to contribute to the high- level leadership goals.

Support looks like a lot of things—providing the right tools and equipment, paying the right salary, etc.—but support also means creating the right type of environment for employees to contribute to the best of their ability. Companies hire employees for their particular skills, mindsets, and perspectives. Managers help employees figure out how they use their specific qualities to contribute to leadership goals.

Managers support employees by creating environments where they feel trusted and where they feel they can trust the leaders and managers of the organization. Managers make sure that employees know their performance and contributions matter.

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When we over-emphasize leadership, problems often arise at the team level. Team leaders serve dual roles: they are both leaders and managers. However, roughly 90 percent of their job is management. Their main focus needs to be on employee support. Only 10 percent of a team leader’s job is repeating the goals set by higher-level leaders. However, the leadership obsession also pushes team leaders to lead more than they manage—meaning employees don’t get the support they need to succeed and contribute to the business.

This is why management still matters. The role of a manager is the lynchpin of effectiveness for organizations of any size. Without managers to support, encourage, and develop employees, an organization will never achieve the level of success that it’s looking for.