Leading and Managing – the constant balance

“My job was to make everyone understand that the impossible was possible. That’s the difference between leadership and management,” reads the back cover of Alex Ferguson’s new book, Leading.

By Fiona Hewitt.

In Sir Alex’s recently released book, he shared his insights on how his style of leadership and management assisted him in delivering outstanding achievements in both his career and in the management of Manchester United.

In his 38-year tenure Sir Alex won an astonishing 49 trophies and helped grow Manchester United into one of the biggest commercial brands in the world.

He identifies and discusses the constant balance of leadership and management and how the two aspects of a leadership or management role are necessarily entwined to achieve success. It is ironic when you consider that we are all often hired as managers but it is necessary that, as part of that role, we also lead if we are committed to creating an environment and a team of people that are able, or want, to deliver their very best.

Leadership and management must go hand in hand and there is a constant balancing act for us to be able to provide the right ingredients for growth, innovation and opportunity.

There are arguably many different approaches to the “why and wherefore” of the differences between leadership and management; in the 1989 book On Becoming a Leader Warren Bennis composed a list of differences:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

In simple terms Warren Bennis saw that the manager’s job is to plan, organise and coordinate and the leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.

The complexity and challenge is then, for us as leaders and managers, to bring two very different skill sets, behaviours and mindsets into one role, one organisation and a multitude of different scenarios each and every day.

Perhaps there was a time where the function of manager and leader could be separated where a job was simply about following orders, allocating resources and ensuring tasks or functions were completed.

Not any more in this new world of working where constant innovation and competition and the changing landscape of technology and workforces requires us to be, and act, different.

In this new economy the value quotient increasingly comes from the knowledge of people and where workers are no longer undifferentiated cogs operating within an organisational framework. It is this place where leadership and management comes together.

People look to their managers, not just to assign them the function of “doing business” but also to the “task of connecting them to the reason why they are in business”.
John Kotter, a noted Harvard business professor and leading authority on the subject of management versus leadership, saw the two functions of management and leadership as:

  • Management is the systematic way of making people and technology work proficiently.
  • Leadership is in the creation of those systems and looking for opportunities to improve and grow.

Management is the concrete, perhaps more left-brain action of planning, organising, and efficiency, while leadership is the abstract creation of vision and strategy.

Leadership is the action of thinking differently and finding out how things can be done (managed) better.

Management is implementation and maintenance to ensure things are getting done well, but leadership is inspiring that implementation.

Maybe that’s where Alex Ferguson saw that leadership is about shining the light onto what, to many, could seem as impossible and making it feel possible for those around him.

Ultimately no matter what label we put on the way we front up and engage with our people each and every day – the careful balance of providing clear direction and inspiration is pivotal in order to create great businesses and great people. 

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