Managers and Leaders there is no difference that matters

The image above flashed on my LinkedIn page; it appears to have been shared by Travis Bradberry.

Pushing the inane silliness of separating managers from leaders. This focus on leadership has led to, as Henry Mintzberg said, “… organizations being overled and undermanaged.” For some reason, the development of a leadership class that is removed from the task-based work of management is seen as a desirable thing.

Leadership is contextual interaction. Leadership is observed while being used.

To have a manager who cannot exercise leadership is a bad manager. To have a leader who cannot manage is a useless, charismatic moron.

The language in the image I found absorbing.

  • Managers lighting a fire under
  • Leadership lighting a fire within

I responded to the picture:

  • Managers supply sufficient signals for someone to move (fire under)? While leaders provide spontaneous combustion with long-term damage (fire within)?
  • Managers let you know that the organization may not be right for you (fire under)? While leaders provide intense pain until you waste away (fire within)?
  • Managers supply an environment that allows you to choose (fire under)? While leaders offer one choice, fire it up or perish (fire within)?

This metaphor aligns very well with the need for better management, better-designed organizations, greater clarity on accountability with authority, working role-relationships and who is accountable for what output. This stuff can be seen as tough, clerical and not so sexy.

Instead, we prefer to chase the idealized ubermensch of a ‘Leader’ and find the philosopher kings with access to the representation of the pure form of leadership. All this is a snake eating its tail, reinforcing a cynical disengaged workforce.