By Bob Patchett, author for Wolters Kluwer’s Croner-i Human Resources
Leaders are proactive. They identify opportunities, set objectives and direction, and inspire their associates to achieve them. Their focus is on both the goal and the people, whose support they engender by listening to what they have to say, taking interest in their progress and especially their problems, and generally making them want to work towards the desired goal. They are not frightened to take risks and respond well to difficulties and other challenges.
Frequently, they are mavericks who see no virtue in maintaining the status quo and who brush rules and protocols aside if they impede progress, which of course can create issues. But an organisation that does not have strong leadership at the top, and indeed at lower levels of the hierarchy, is likely to stagnate and be incapable of responding effectively to the challenges and threats of the market, the service or the electorate.
Managers are reactive. They seek to be right and accordingly are comfortable with the status quo. A leader may have identified the right new product or market opportunity, but a manager must take care to ensure that it is achieved satisfactorily, and therefore will determine the necessary parameters — product specification or marketing strategy — and then do whatever is necessary to ensure success. This is likely to involve the allocation, monitoring and control of resources within certain constraints.
Managers keep their eye on the ball and on the bottom line, and whereas the leader has followers, the manager has subordinates who comply with his or her instructions. Even if an organisation has good leadership, it will flounder and fall into chaos if it lacks sound management.
Management and leadership are both important to an organisation, albeit required in a different mix to suit differing circumstances. This suggests that both those with strong leadership qualities and others with sound management skills should be employed. But as needs often change, the organisation would be better served by people who possess a good degree of each quality.
Manager or leader?
Returning to the initial question, a strong manager but not so strong leader (or vice versa) is likely to be of great value to the organisation, though not necessarily all the time. He or she may have led the business into new areas, but it now needs to settle down and deal with new challenges. Their skills will still be needed such that they continue to be enthused, otherwise they may feel the need to move elsewhere to avoid career frustration. Conversely, even well-honed management skills may be insufficient to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing market, so where then?
As to the question of which is more important, the answer surely is that both are required in different proportions at different times, as prevailing circumstances demand. Ideally, therefore, any top table should be staffed by people who have both qualities, who can surge towards new opportunities, inspiring people to follow, yet get down to detail and have their employees make the right things happen.