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Effective Leader, Great Manager, or Both?

Welcome to this inaugural posting by The HR Gov Gal!
As a
featured blogger on
Govloop, I will be posting every Wednesday, with work-related career tips and my thoughts about Civil Service employment with the Federal government. Future topics include the job search, developing yourself for promotion, getting the most out of work, tapping into your benefits, and similar topics that affect the employment experience. My inaugural blog, while short & sweet, touches upon the differences between Leadership and Management. I encourage you to comment and I welcome your requests for future blogs.

Do you think training will make you an effective leader, a great manager, or both? Before you answer that question, read this

Many organizations teach leadership skills but let’s face it, if the ability to lead isn’t within you, why do you think you are (or will be) any good at applying the training?

According to Jonathon Doh in Perspectives from Management Educators, leadership basics can be taught but good leaders need more than mere knowledge, they also need character, the right values and ethics. Leadership doesn’t just require knowing the skills needed to be effective; it also requires tapping into one’s innate abilities.

Leadership and management are not interchangeable. Managers are responsible for work activities such as money, time, paperwork, materials, equipment, etc. Leaders are people who can influence others. In 1986, Admiral Hopper made this point clear when she said, “You cannot manage <people> into battle. You manage things; you lead people.” So, even the best managers should not be confused with great leaders.

True leaders are born into these roles; everyone does not have it in them to be an effective leader. Although leaders can learn to be effective managers, leadership is not necessarily something that effective managers can learn. Leadership training, therefore, is simply knowledge to managers while it is useful to true leaders since it can help bring about their full and innate leadership potential.

It’s more accurate to say that effective leadership skills can be taught, but leadership skills also must be honed in a personal & intuitive way so as to shape and develop one’s natural leadership abilities. After all, you can lead a horse to water but… well, if the horse can’t or won’t drink, was one’s leadership effective?

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Erin Duggins

Hmmm…so I agree with this post in part. I do agree that there is a substantial difference between leadership and management. Leadership can be broadly defined as the ability of someone to develop and communicate a shared vision, as well as mobilize and empower his or her followers in the execution of that shared vision. While management is inherently tactical, operational and process focused. Given that the Federal government is a large bureaucracy, which means that it is inherently hierarchical and rules driven, it is almost impossible for the large majority of mid-senior level leaders to get out of the “management” business and get into the “leadership” business by virtue of the very environment in which they operate.

That being said, the question becomes is a leader born or made? My answer is that leaders can be both born and made. The question, which I think your post alludes to, is what skills and behaviors must a leader exhibit and are there development programs that answer the mail. Philip Selznick defines four functions of formal leaders: 1) define the institutional (organizational) mission, 2) aligning the structure with the mission, 3) engage internal and external stakeholders in the sustained projection of the organization’s image, and 4) resolving internal conflict (Selznick, as cited in Tolbert and Hall, 2009). As such, leadership development programs that focus on strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, organizational change, etc can absolutely help in that department. Further, our leaders’ performance must be measured along those lines — including how their actions contribute to organizational performance. But if we insist on using “traditional” leadership development programs and metrics that focus on management principles, then yes, we will continue to miss the boat and we will grow “glorified managers” and miss the opportunity to grow visionary leaders.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

1) Do all leaders have the same characteristics?
2) Is there a manager-leader continuum?
3) Does the situation make the leader?

Erin Duggins

Interesting questions Bill. My thoughts on your questions are as follows:

1. I do believe that great leaders share similar practices and behaviors, and that the best practices and characteristics to use depend on the situation in which the leader finds him/herself.

2. I don’t know if I think about it in the context of manager-leader continuum. The practices and behaviors are definitely complimentary. Managers can be good leaders and leaders can be good managers. Further, a person does not need positional authority in order to be a leader. Maybe part of our struggle in government is that there is a substantial focus on developing people already in leadership positions instead of developing leaders at multiple levels in the organization and from the minute one is employed by an agency.

3. I do believe in situational leadership in that there is no such thing as the “one best” (or “one worst”) leadership style, but rather, the situation determines what leadership style is the most appropriate. A leader should have a number of styles in his/her arsenal to use at a given point in time.

Hope that helps!

Doris Tirone

Erin ~ I whole-heartedly agree with #3 of your last comment! Additionally, I like the idea you presented that perhaps we should focus on “developing leaders at multiple levels in the organization and from the minute one is employed by an agency”. This is one of the golden keys to Succession Planning, to identify employees with potential and start early to develop them for future opportunities.

Doris Tirone

The top five leadership traits (out of 20) identified in the book The Leadership Challenge are (1) Honesty, (2) Forward-Looking, (3) Competence, (4) Inspirational, and (5) Intelligent. According to Mark Shead in Leadership501, people who exhibit these qualities inspire confidence; these traits have also been strongly correlated with the desire by others to follow their lead. While I agree in part, that leadership traits can be learned, it is impossible to make people follow one’s lead unless one’s demonstration of these traits is sincere and genuine.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Erin and @Doris – A book you two might be interested in is Fairholm’s The Techniques of Inner Leadership. According to Fairholm, inner leaders are essentially the middle managers in the organization who have the responsibility for implementing the strategic vision of the upper leadership. Fairholm argues that the primary tasks of inner leaders is to build trust, build networks, and to empower employees.

The reason that I ask about a management-leadership continuum is that I believe project managers work on this type of model. Being a certified project manager myself, I have been trained in the quantitative hard skills of controlling a project while being trained in the soft skills of team building and stakeholder management. I’ve been working (off and on) a blended leadership/manager model for project leadership. That is why I was particularly interested in this posting.

Warren Master

Leadership behavior is part of cultural behavior – part of the language we learn in our families, neighborhoods, school rooms, play groups and sports teams, AND organizations we work for. Sure, our individual genetic cocktail enters into the picture, but I suspect most homo sapiens have the capacity to acquire a facility in this language if given the opportunity and encouragement to try. So…it may be time to change the conversation if oo many individuals are behaving sheepishly – not taking responsibility for what’s happening.

Martha L. Ayerdis, MBA

I taught Leadership Development in my last job. As a class with good materials it was great. The main problem for me as a mentor, coach and leader was the results. My supervisor, the president of the company was expecting miracles. The senior management team learned the theory and passed the test. The practice was a totally disaster! I ended frustrated…but for me it was impossible to make miracles. As the article says “if the horse cannot or won’t drink, eas one’s leadership effective? 🙂

Erin Duggins

Part of the problem is that leaders feel that they can attend a course and presto — they are new and improved leaders. Another part of the problem is that leadership development programs are rarely tied to supporting systems such as performance management, such that leaders are then expected to demonstrate measurable results based on improved leadership styles and organizational climate that promote shared vision, values, trust, communication, and collaboration among staff.

Doris Tirone

You are so right Erin! “Part of the problem is that leadership development programs are rarely tied to supporting systems such as performance management”. For decades, employers have viewed employee development initiatives in a vacuum. It has been the rare (albeit successful) employer who has taken the “wholistic approach” to resource development (e.g., Southwest Airlines). Leaders can be developed from those who possess innate qualities that can be brought out through nurture and linkage with a uintegrated employee development program. Finding “potentials” in one’s organization might be possible but developing them successfully requires so much more than participation in a few courses.

Jack Shaw

I could write a book. So much depends on definitions, situations and perhaps, the theories of Charles Darwin. I am convinced leadership should exist at multiple levels within an organization. I managed two training courses, one on Management Development and one on Leadership. The Management course was so limited our senior managers complained while the junior managers thought it was great. The result: we learned it should have been for two separate groups. Later, the Leadership course was designated the appropriate course for the senior managers. It proved to be a great introspective exercise for all concerned but the results of seeing the leadership behaviors we hoped to emerge was impossible to measure except through anecdotes. I found the military promotes leadership rather than managers. Leadership qualities are venerated whereas in some circles they are assumed in senior management. By that, I mean they are leaders in word only. Performance management is tied to program performance, not how well they lead the organizations. A couple of related blogs.