Management is Not Leadership

Dr. John Kotter is a renowned expert in the field of leadership and leading change. His Harvard Business Review blog “Management Is (Still) Not Leadership” does a fantastic job of differentiating between managers and leaders (both of whom are critical to the success of a business and any change effort!):

In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words “leadership” and “management” synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time.

The interview reminded me once again that the confusion around these two terms is massive, and that misunderstanding gets in the way of any reasonable discussion about how to build a company, position it for success and win in the twenty-first century….

In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

What Dr. Kotter so eloquently stated is a key aspect of the wHolistic ChangeSM approach: we have the utmost respect for the managers, the operational owners who successfully deliver products day in and day out. Managers are critical participants in every change effort, because these individuals know their employees and their customers, and they know how to get stuff done!

However, in order to truly deliver a change, the change team also needs leaders: sponsors, change agents, and champions. (Some individual owners might be leaders; check their behaviors to tell for sure.) As Patty described so well in her blog about the champion:

The key to a Champion’s effectiveness is their sphere of influence and their ability to inspire and motivate other people.   Look for people to be Champions who are respected by their peers, their management, and their direct reports — and who have demonstrated the ability to influence people’s behavior.

Those behaviors describe leadership, regardless of the title or position a person has within your company. Find the leaders and empower them to make your organization better. With the right encouragement and support, they will!

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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