Management and Leadership

In a recent discussion in my MBA course, the subject of leadership was again brought to debate. The discussion was about the terms leadership and management: are they the same and can be used interchangeably? Would it be possible to be a good manager and a bad leader? What about a good leader and bad manager?

Although I believe we see managers that are not leaders, I don't think one can be a good "people manager" without being also a leader. And I also believe that within any organization, there are people who are leaders and are not necessarily in management positions. The two terms are not the same - we hope that people in management positions, more specifically people managers, are also leaders. This is the best situation. Other leaders in the organization will certainly exist, like technical leaders, subject matter experts, and other kinds of informal leaders that will not step up to management positions.

One can indeed be a good leader and a bad manager - I think history is full of examples of people with brilliant leadership skills that were not good managers. But as long as they are really good leaders, they will be able to attract talent that can help them to manage things. For me, that is the case with many political leaders in history - many are great leaders, but when it comes to administering, or managing, they need to have a professional manager that can handle things as a manager.

As part of this discussion, one of the students argued that Adolph Hitler was a great leader because he inspired the German people. Germany was at a horrible point economically, in many parallels the same United States' Great Depression, and Adolph inspired the people to build strength in the German economy, although in a horrible and sadistic way. This was part of this discussion on Management and Leadership, and how the two things are different and how they complement each other. In my view, had Hitler been a good manager besides being a competent leader, we might be all speaking German today. He surely knew how to create a vision of a better place for his people, how to face that to the bitter place Germany was after World War I, how to create a sense of belonging, and how to make the leadership call so people would follow him - he surely inspired the Germans. Fortunately for the rest of the world - and for Germany too - he was a lousy manager.

I agree that is definitely possible to be a good leader and a bad manager, but I think I will have to disagree that it is possible (today) to be a good manager and a bad leader. Considering that we are talking about people management and not other kinds of managers such as account managers or process or program managers, the leadership traits must be present. In our days, when we move from groups of people to teams, a people manager cannot afford not having leadership skills. In my view, managing people today is more than simply supervising and controlling; there is a great deal of inspirational work, creating a shared vision and shared goals, building trust, communicating well, and other things.

Chapter 12 of Organizational Behavior, by McShane and Von Glinow, brings a good overview of this. A manager will have a great deal of legitimate power, which emanates from the position itself. The text also says that "more generally, employees are becoming less tolerant of legitimate power." And in chapter 14, we can read that "leadership is the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute to the effectiveness and success of the organizations of which they are members." What I can grasp here is that legitimate power that emanates from a manager position will not be enough to get the best results of a team if the manager is not a leader too. A leader will not rely merely on legitimate power because he or she will influence people by exerting power that originates from within, such as expert power and referent power.


McShane, Steve L.,  & Von Glinow, Mary Ann (2004).  Organizational Behavior: Emerging Realities for the Workplace Revolution. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.

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