Melbourne Business School News How to know when to lead and when to manage - and which one is for you

How to know when to lead and when to manage - and which one is for you

Even though the terms management and leadership are used interchangeably in the workplace, each has a specific meaning and value that is vital to running an organisation well.

People meeting

Simply put, leadership is about creating a particular vision for the future while management is necessary to make it happen, says Clint Whyte, who designs and delivers customised leadership development programs to organisations across Australia and Southeast Asia.

"Leadership is more about providing a picture of a better future – a vision – and the ability to effectively communicate this in an inspiring way. It is about creating change," he says

"Management is about resourcing, planning, budgeting, staffing, performance management and implementing an organisation's strategic plans. It is about seeking order and stability."

Clint says that while the idea of leadership can be more fashionable, the reality is that both good leaders and managers are required for an organisation to succeed.

"If you were to ask a group of people if they thought they were either good leaders or good managers, my guess is that most people would claim to be good leaders," he says.

"Leadership is the shiny sports car and management has become the old ute. But the truth is there is a difference between the two and both are required, in balance, for organisations to be effective."

Traditionally, the structure of organisations has been hierarchical, with leaders sitting on top and managers underneath. However, that is starting to change, Clint says.

"The view of leaders and managers in a flatter structure is one many organisations are moving towards. It allows them to better deal with the increasingly complex and uncertain operating environments proliferating across the business landscape."

Flatter structures also help to provide more balance in an organisation, and avoid the risks of concentrating too much on one skill over the other.

"When an organisation is heavy on management over leadership, it fosters bureaucracy and lacks innovation," Clint says.

"But when it goes the other way and an organisation is too heavy on leadership, it suffers from unrealistic aspirations and lacks alignment. Academics such Kotter and Zaleznik have both made this point in Harvard Business Review articles."

Knowing when to lead and when to manage

clintA simple exercise with pen and paper can help people understand which skill is needed at different times, and which one they're naturally suited to, says Clint. 

"Practically speaking, writing down on paper your wants and challenges and how they relate to one another will reveal to ideas on how to address them," he says.

"This is because humans are hardwired to process thought through the act of writing, which makes writing an essential exercise to developing growth.

"Make sure you write about how your team is developing, actions to take for success, unique styles to manage different people and the culture affecting this, which forms leadership."

People who are naturally better and one skill over the other can still work to get better at the other, but they need to have a clear understanding of what it is they need to do.

"Leaders must continuously develop all aspects of themselves as human beings to be effective," says Clint.

"Particularly, they need to work on their emotional intelligence by recognising their own and other people's emotions and understanding how certain direct or indirect actions will affect their behaviour and decisions.

"Managers, on the other hand, need to hone their skills in planning, problem-solving and the effective allocation of resources."

The most important part of this process, Clint says, is being honest with yourself about which areas you perform well in as well as those in which you need to improve – and then bringing in other people to help you.

"You can always learn new skills, but you'll be more successful if you understand yourself first."

Melbourne Business School offers a wide range of Executive Education programs to boost your management and leadership skills, including customised solutions for organisations facing specific challenges as well as open programs for individuals.