What’s the difference between management and leadership? Which seems to be most lacking in government?

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 9 years, 12 months ago.

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  • #105375

    Effective management? Visionary leadership? Which is needed more in government now? Is it too much to ask for both in certain positions? Or is it a rare combination?

  • #105387

    Mark Hammer

    There is a difference between what is needed on a daily basis, and what is ideally needed. My sense is that a great many managerial positions are 95% “management” and 5% “leadership” in what they require on a daily basis. The opportunities to display leadership in substantive ways come few and far between. That is not to say that the people occupying the positons are incapable of seizing those available moments and displaying leadership. But when the you factor in all the budget stuff, reporting burden, dreary meetings, staffing, and other things, there aren’t a whole lot of minutes left in the week for it.

    For a lot of managers, it is akin to the role of romance in a marriage where both partners work and there are 3 kids under the age of 12. Should one strive for romance in a marriage? Well, duh. But after the kids have been fed, cleaned, put to bed, the paperwork done, the car brought in for an oil change, the grass cut, a new furnace filter bought, the news watched and paper read, the groceries bought and put away, and all phone calls from aging parents tended to, how much time and energy is there left over? Maybe you get “date night”, but that’s about it. “Visionary leadership” in managerial positions faces the same challenges as weekends of mind-blowing hot sex in a *real* marriage: on your list of things you plan to do once everything else is tended to.

    For me the more pertinent question is whether the demands of being a manager tend to deter those whose leadership capabilities might make them more of what is needed. If I felt that management positions were 90% management and 10% leadership, I might pursue one, but with the best I can hope for being 5% leadership, I’ll leave those jobs for others, thank you.

  • #105385

    Henry Brown

    my favorite quote from a former supervisor “you manage things you lead people” Which in MY opinion pretty well describes the difference.

    As such would offer that there is more than an adequate amount of both missing in the government. The blogs/discussions on GovLoop are full of prime examples throughout the government. Suspect we have all known excellent managers, and I suspect that the numbers of excellent leaders is significantly less although they can have a much wider impact than excellent managers.

    Again my opinion, if you have very poor or no leadership skills you will probably work out OK if you are tasked/assigned to project/mission which doesn’t require working with other team members. and if one lacks management skills (time/resources management, computer skills, budget skills, research skills) one can overcome these weakness while in a leadership role by excellent communications and delegation.

    Would offer that one needs both within any organization, whatever sector it might be in. Without both of them the organization is doomed to failure eventually…

    IMO because of the reward system in the government sector, it is rather rare to see one individuals with highly developed leadership AND management traits although they do come along occasionally, although the higher up in the chain they get, one or the other of the traits tend to fall by the wayside. Because over 3/4 of my experience was with DOD, I can only name two: Admiral Grace Hopper and Admiral Hyman Rickover.

    Fortunately most organizations realize this and will insure that near the top are both kinds of people, and the really great leaders and managers will realize their limitations and insure that “nearby” is their polar opposite.

  • #105383

    Steve Ressler

    Great comment Mark…totally love the marriage analogy.

    Also it’s a hierarchy of needs. Got to have the basics of management first before getting to innovation. But I think leadership can also be more subtle – lots of that is in the day-to-day how the manager acts/treats people and projects

  • #105381

    Mark Hammer

    I used to teach human development at the undergraduate level. One year, in an adolescent development class, I gave out a little survey to some 60-70 students. I never published the results, because it certainly doesn’t meet the criteria for academic rigor, but the findings were thought-provoking.

    We have to move a few years back in time to set the stage for it, though. When the Tien Nan Men square massacre happened, I went to a candle-light vigil with a fellow graduate student from Beijing. We both brought our children, then pre-schoolers. As I looked around, I thought how uncommon an experience it was for children to see what their parents stood for, up close and personal. Sure, kids know the rules their parents enforce, and they go to religious rituals and through the various related moves with them, but they often don’t have a chance to see their parents saying “THIS is what I believe in”. Sometimes, their first opportunity may come during a toast at a wedding, or other life-stage ritual, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all.

    So, flash forward again by 6-8 years, and I decided to ask my students to indicate, via a number of indices, how much each of their parents overtly expressed and declared their values. That could be something as simple as watching a news item and saying “I don’t know how people could do that to each other”. Elsewhere in the same survey, I asked them how close they felt to each of their parents, how much they trusted that parent to consistently act in their (the child’s) best interests, and how old they were when they moved away from home.

    Those students who reported a parent more regularly and overtly declaring their values and what they stood for ALSO reported feeling closer to that parent, and trusting them more (and that relationship sometimes differentiated between parents of the same person). And, perhaps not surprisingly, they also tended to report moving away from home at a later age (we’re talking about a difference of about 2 years, on average).

    For me, the moral is that opportunities seized for leaders to declare what they stand for, to say it out loud, can only work in the interests of the unit/organization, just as they work in the interests of families. Having a vision is one thing. Knowing that the vision would be accepted by those who need to help you bring that vision along, and that they TRUST your vision as being the right one, is absolutely imperative to making leadership functional. Buy-in, and trust of leaders, is fundamental.

    The irony is that so many seem to think that being up front about what you think is important is somehow a sign of weakness that may undermine your leadership role. If I think about those folks who have been my leader over the years, there are some who were pleasant enough, but came and went, and those I’d take a bullet for. The latter were characterized by being more likely to declare what was important for them, and indeed important in life. We had one leader of the organization, some years back, who would get misty-eyed easily when he thought or talked about what the organization stood for. That guy, I’d follow anywhere. The person who succeeded him was not a fool, but was prone to dull abstract, and safe, speeches that never seemed to come from their heart. That person, I’ll be unmoved to see go.

  • #105379

    Bruce Lynn

    Leaders optimise upside opportunity. Managers minimise downside risk.

    Both are needed in appropriate balance to optimise organisational return. That balance depends on the environment of risk. When things are more likely to go right than wrong (eg. boom economy), then a greater portion of leadership is needed. But vice-versa, when downside risk is great, proportionately more emphasis on good management is needed. I would contend that we are in a period of the latter.

    It is rare to get both qualities in a single leader. John F. Kennedy demonstrated both. His moon landing vision was leadership, and his handling of the Cuban missile crisis was management. But, you don’t need both in a single person as long as people who exemplify each partner and work together.

  • #105377

    Meredith Mengel

    Oh Mark, you’ve hit the nail on the head. People need a clear understanding of what you stand for, what’s important to you, and how their work supports important and meaningful goals. That key information will guide their efforts and inspire them to do their best work, even when you’re not around. Without it, tasks don’t have any context and are essentially meaningless. That’s bad for your organization, which won’t be getting its money’s worth, and employees, who can become demoralized or inadvertently work at cross-purposes with each other.

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