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Successful Managers Have Two-Faces

September 16, 2011

“Failing organizations are often over-managed and under-led” 

Warren G. Bennis


The above statement was rolled out to us quite some time ago by leadership guru Warren Bennis as the notion of there being a difference between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ began to firmly take  hold. This concept, obviously, continues well into the latter part of 2011 where we now find ourselves.

Over the years, various leadership experts and pundits have taken to characterizing managers as corporate drones (my words, not necessarily theirs) who follow (and enforce) the rules, accept the status quo, toe-the-company-line and revel in operational efficiency.  We anticipate that managers will focus on maintaining control, hit their output goals, ensure  staff competence and rally their employees to get the job done. This is our vision of management activities whether that manager is keeping the Kwik-E-Mart operating 24/7/365 or handling the next deliverable on the software upgrade.

Our leaders, on the other hand, are assigned much nobler goals.  We expect them to challenge the rules, break down the status quo, bust through the company-line and focus on effectiveness and innovation.

And we pretty much default to these differing views of those who supervise people or functions don’t we?  It’s almost instinctual for us to mentally distinguish between managers and leaders when planning workplace activities, rotational/stretch assignments or HR training programs:

“Joe’s a great manager over that Call Center group.  He’s good at focusing on the numbers and making sure those gals stay on task!”

“Sue has fantastic leadership potential.  She gave us some great ideas that led to the changes in the Quozog product line!”

           quickly followed by:

“Let’s put Joe through that Management Effectiveness training to sharpen his time-management and data-skills a little more!” and

“It’s time to put Sue in some rotational assignments in Marketing and Finance; she’s got that big-picture view!”


Now these may very well be appropriate roads for Joe and Sue and ideally there’s some deeper analysis going on before these types of decisions are made.

But I think the rut we’ve inadvertently gotten ourselves into, over time, is one where we quickly and sometimes inaccurately assign either the manager or leader label
to individuals and then send them down a specific path.  If we decide someone is a manager, then we focus on those attributes we ascribe to that role:  excellence
with systems and structure, managing to the bottom-line, and controlling the environment, the processes and the troops. So we target those areas and figure we’ll build the best manager we can!

If we identify someone as a leader (HIPO? leader-to-be?) we equip them to challenge others, keep their eyes on the horizon/future, encourage them to inspire trust in others and become a leader of people.  We put them through the DISC, the Birkman and the Hogan.  We expect much more of them because, after all, we’ve decided they’re a leader!

(and note – title or place-on-org-chart sometimes, but not always, has a part to play in making these distinctions)


Is this wrong?  Not necessarily.  Life being what it is, and organizations being what they are, we need to find ways to discern and decide which employees best fit our organization’s needs and can help us hit our objectives.

But I wonder – if we put people into a category – do we limit not only their potential but also the potential of our organization?

Won’t we be better served if we expect that ALL MANAGERS will also be LEADERS?

Because I’m not sure we do a very good job of that.


Our pal Warren Bennis was also known for saying “Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Well, I would expect managers to also do the right thing.

Two sides of a coin.  Two parallel train tracks. Two faces – and not necessarily Harvey Dent.

Because I can tell you – the manager I want on my team is the one who IS a leader.

One Comment leave one →
  1. HRBR permalink
    September 16, 2011 9:52 am

    Two thumbs up! Love this!

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