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Can Bad Managers be Good Leaders?

March 24, 2022

Many have argued that leadership and management are different disciplines.  Management is about the day to day monitoring of people and systems, whereas leadership is focused on a longer term destination and the strategy that will get the organisation there.

Do you need to be a good manager, in order to be a good leader?

Henry Mintzberg challenges this by asking, ‘would you like to be led by someone who can’t manage?’ and ‘would you like to be managed by someone who can’t lead?’

3 Differences between Managers and Leaders

1. Measuring value or adding value

Managers tend to focus more on the output of value being created rather than improving it. Leaders on the other hand will work to increase value by improving processes and enabling people.

2. Leading people or managing work

Managing people involves the control of a group of individuals or entities to accomplish a goal, leading people on the other hand is more about positively influencing individuals towards a collective movement of success.

3. Influence vs Power

Managers have circles of power which contain their subordinates, where as successful leaders have circles of influence in which are their followers. Leaders will often find that individuals outside of their circle of influence often come to them for support and advice.

Leadership Qualities

So, would it be better to think of leadership as a higher level of management?  Something good managers can graduate towards?  Leadership academics would support this view, yet out in the field there seems to be an abundance of effective leaders who are not particularly great people managers.  They do however demonstrate:

  • Charisma – giving inspiring speeches and exhibiting an air of authority
  • Vision – they energetically describe a better future
  • Followership – people are drawn to follow them
  • Decisiveness –  they combine analysis with intuition to make good choices, quickly
  • Authenticity – they are comfortable in their own skin

These are all admirable leadership qualities that are likely to inspire a band of devoted followers.  But only when combined with the more mundane management attributes listed below do they make a highly potent and effective figurehead.

  • Humility “Leadership is easy as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.” Gen Eisenhower
  • Perseverance “Everyone experiences tough times, it is a measure of your determination and dedication how you deal with them and how you can come through them” Lakshmi Mittal, CEO of Mittal Steel Company
  • Trust in the team “The essence of leadership is building bonds of trust in your organisation.” Colin Powell, US Statesman
  • Diligence “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.” Jeff Bezos, founder & CEO, amazon.com
  • A desire to encourage and develop others “I see myself as a coach for the business.  I push people, I guide and help them, I bounce ideas off them.” Julian Richer founder of Richer Sounds

So perhaps bad managers can lead but great leaders combine the qualities found in both.

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