It's all about leadership right? Yes...but don't forget to manage as well! | Learning & Development | Primeast

Leadership. Just the word conjures up a picture of successful, influential people who have impact and make a difference. Whether they strut and project power or are humble and self-effacing, they seem to have an aura that attracts attention.

Leadership gurus publish streams of content, across a range of media, promoting their hypotheses on how to change to world with better leadership. Some of these concepts are robust and well founded, others are probably, well…guff. Yet, we consume it all voraciously because the whole idea of Leadership is attractive.

Similarly, companies invest hugely in leadership development in the hope that some of their people will evolve and have transformational impact on their business. And we individuals aspire to do all the things that make a real, sustainable difference…just by leading. It feeds our sense of purpose.

We are drawn to Leadership because it is just sooo seductive, right?

The problem with the practice of Management

Management on the other hand seems to get a rough deal. It seems so unseductive.

Researchers throughout the 20th Century spent a lot of time looking at the distinguishing factors of the two practices. From Fayol in the early 1900s through to Kotter, Bennis & Nannus in the late 90s and for many since, their analysis created lists of the components similar to these:

Leadership Management
Setting a direction Planning & Budgeting
Aligning People Organising & Staffing
Motivating Controlling & Problem Solving
Mastery of the Context Control of the Environment

Those simple lists highlight the problem for the practice of Management, it isn’t seductive and it’s easy to see why so many people are put off and are drawn to Leadership instead. It is process, procedure, task-focussed and attention to detail. Often there’s lots of it too. Management is about getting things done in an effective manner to create output or deliver goals and objectives in the best way possible. However, it’s also what helps turn strategy into reality, it’s where things get organised to actually create value.

To use an automotive metaphor Management is the functional engine to Leadership’s sleek, aerodynamic bodywork.

It is not 'either or'

This may all sound like I have a problem with Leadership. Far from it, I have built an entire 3rd career from the development of leaders. However, I just want leaders to embrace Management…I want them to lead but I want them to manage as well.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Victor Lipman talked about leaders who practice ‘under-management’ as the flip side to ‘micromanagement’. They often struggle to deliver results and appear to be on the back foot with operational issues. He suggests these are leaders who “often fly under the radar” because “they often know their business well, are good, inspirational collaborators, and are well-liked”.

Potentially these are people who are drawn to the bright lights of Leadership but avoid the often-unpleasant grind of management.

In my personal experience of almost 40 years in leadership and management roles (geez, I feel old!) is that the very best leaders I have ever worked alongside have been talented managers and equally the best managers had strong leadership capability.

Four Key Management Practices to Embrace Now

So, if you are a leader of people and find yourself being drawn much more towards leadership as it seems so much more attractive, pause and remember to manage too. If you do nothing more, try these Four Key Management Practices and give your impact a boost:

  1. Align and coordinate: Provide people with a unifying direction, so they know what the goal is. Help individuals understand how their work contributes and fits with others’ work. Pay regular attention to the planning and coordination of activity and effort, as it easily gets away from you. It also helps prevent blockages, hot-spots and an imbalance of workload for your team.
  2. Build productive relationships: Build trust with each team member and encourage them to do the same with each other. Being able to trust and rely on your colleagues really helps people be more productive. Don’t be a conflict avoider and remember healthy conflict can be good (strangely trust helps). Conflict often takes on a bad tone when things are left to fester and go unattended. So act promptly and turn potential conflict situations into joint problem solving opportunities, where people can learn, resolve differences and solve problems, all at the same time.
  3. Measure what matters: The world of Big Data means that we have more information at our fingertips than ever. However, if you are short on time and can only measure a few things, always remember to measure output rather than activity. It’s easy for people to look busy but it’s their output that really counts. Pay attention to measuring what really counts.
  4. Make mutual accountability the norm: Work with your team members to set relevant goals that fit with broader objectives; gain their commitment and share your own objective for supporting and enabling them. In that way you build a kind of contract which creates mutual accountability for each of your respective parts. Building in accountability enables alignment, aids coordination, nurtures productive relationships, encourages joint problem solving and helps to focus on output. Holding each other to account builds trust and ownership.

Leadership is critical; inspiring people to strive for a better future and creating the conditions where they can make it happen is a fundamental of positive change. And to make that real it must go hand in hand with Management. The ever-present challenge is how to blend the two and make those agile shifts to focus on the right things at the right time.

You might also enjoy reading 'Behaviours to develop trust within remote teams'.

We invite you to start a conversation with Primeast about your organisation's development needs.

Primeast have been working with organisations globally for over thirty years as learning and development partners, creating outstanding leaders who are equipped to lead organisations where people can thrive.

Start a conversation today, you can email Russell directly or call Primeast on +44 (0) 1423 531083.

About the Author


Russell Evans

Russell Evans, Managing Director of Primeast, leads a team of around 100 core and associate consultants, facilitators and coaches based in 24 countries. A key component of Russell’s role is to work at a strategic level with Primeast’s client partners to help them develop as ‘learning organisations’.

Russell has global experience across a range of sectors, particularly in highly matrixed, often heavily regulated environments. He is passionate about supporting leaders as they embark on their leadership journey helping them develop both their 'outer game' (skills) and their 'inner game' (thinking and mindset).

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