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A classic: Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?  The two terms and roles are often used interchangeably, and it’s best to start the inquiry with a way of recognizing their differences.  Abraham Zaleznik, a former HBS prof, answered this question ‘Yes,’ and offered a view of the two roles in 1977, still relevant today, as complementary:  managers organize and control; leaders engage and inspire.  He concluded organizations must develop both types to succeed, to which I would add: CEOs themselves need each capability to succeed in their jobs, and should know when each is required of them.

A second classic is The Manager’s Job: Folklore or Fact? Henry Mintzberg, an MIT grad on faculty at McGill, found the manager job much larger than organizing and controlling.  Although he sees leading as just one aspect of the management job in his original 1975 article, Mintzberg nonetheless finds that the work of the top job in an organizational hierarchy is to play all the roles needed for organizational success.  His 1990 retrospective commentary in the attached link recognizes that ‘in practice, management has to be two-faced–there has to be a balance between the cerebral and the insightful’ — the manager-leader implied by his HBS colleague’s work.

Read together, these two articles take a lot of the glitter off of common conceptions of leadership, which I think is healthy.  Nonetheless, while we all appreciate the charismatic leader, a Kennedy or a Reagan who can make us comfortable that it’s all in good hands, there is a lot of everyday blocking and tackling required to make the world work effectively.  Engaging people to do that doesn’t require the confluence of character, charisma and crisis that gave these two men the opportunity for historical impact.  Is it leadership or management that we need?  I think the answer is Yes.

Thirdly, Daniel Goleman has made an important contribution to the leadership literature, a new third classic that deserves to be part of the conversation (What Makes a Leader?). His findings posit a new dimension of endeavor for leaders—‘emotional intelligence’—that makes the critical difference, he argues, between successful and unsuccessful leaders. He sees a well-deployed EI capability making a demonstrable impact in all realms of endeavor—for both leaders and managers—regardless of the gender or role of those being led.

Lastly, an important bookend to any attempt to define what leaders are and should do is the question: how do you know if you’ve been successful?  What are the best outcome measures for leadership?  A group of colleagues and I took this up some years ago and said why don’t we turn away from ‘leadership’ and look at ‘followership’?  Isn’t the surest test of leaders whether anybody bothers to follow?  When you look in the rear view mirror, is anyone there?  And if I were a ‘follower’, what would it have taken to turn me into one?  This subtle shift is actually in my view an important final grounding of the debate about leaders in the reality of everyday life, a best and final defense against the grandiosity leaders can so easily assume.  The Followership Test