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.