Managers have had a bad press for years. Leaders get all the glory and the most enthralling, engaging and exciting books are written about them. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a leader and managers are doomed to grey anonymity waiting to be told what to do by those who, apparently, “do the right things”. It’s time to set the record straight and remind ourselves that management, not leadership, makes things happen and gets things done.
Words like charismatic, visionary and strategic seem to be tailor made for the role of leader. Somehow “charismatic manager” just doesn’t sound right - even “great” doesn’t pair well with the notion of management. Who would want to turn down the opportunity of being a charismatic visionary? The result is lots of press, books, focus and attention on leaders and leadership. But this focus misses a significant issue - that of actually getting things done.
Manager, managing, management - all are about a hands-on approach - the very word is from the Latin for hand and, probably, was about the person who controlled the horses or “kept them in hand”. Maintenance is from the same root and therein lies a reminder as to what the role entails - keeping things running and maintaining stability.
Leadership, on the other hand, is mostly acknowledged as being all about change. Nothing wrong with that but sometimes that means change for change’s sake without really thinking through what the implications are for current systems, practices, customers and workloads.
Imagine an organisation of nothing but leaders. Chaotic lurching from new idea to new idea, crisis to crisis, initiative to initiative with no-one really knowing what the priorities are and what the focus should be. Sooner or later there will be a big bang and a dramatic crash since no-one is, in fact, steering the ship.
So we need managers and management to steady the ship, keep a hand on the tiller, oil the wheels, handle the horses or whatever metaphor we choose to employ to remind us of the need for stability, control and certainty as well as the exciting challenges of change. Of course too much management and not enough leadership would not be the right mix either - the decline would be gradual as things changed but sooner or later the tried and trusted methods would no longer be relevant.
On our development programmes we emphasise management and leadership not managers and leaders. Most senior people in business today recognise that their work is divided between the two roles rather than simply being one or the other. Perhaps the most relevant question is which is needed most by the organisation and its strategies? Does the organisation need a shake up and rethink or is there a need for control, certainty and calm?