There is a great deal of interest in the subject of leadership—the sheer number of books published on this topic is proof of this fact. However, despite the amount that has been written, there is still a controversy about the difference between leadership and management and whether one is more important than another.
For example, some academics and consultants believe the skills and personality traits required for management and leadership are fundamentally different or even incompatible and cannot occur in the same person.
Others contend that leadership and management are more akin to distinct processes or roles with different objectives. Basically, for these thinkers, the objective of management is to bring order and stability while the objective of leadership is to drive innovation and change.
Fusing Leadership and Management
Although these are both defensible points of view, our research on flexible adaptive leadership finds the distinctions to not be particularly helpful for either leaders/managers themselves or the HR professionals who are charged with developing leaders/managers.
Today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing business environment requires that the traits and skills of both management and leadership must be able to coexist in employees at all levels of the organization. This is because in today’s complex world, leaders/managers must be able to simultaneously attend to three factors that impact organizational performance:
- Efficiency—maintaining high levels of productivity and quality, minimizing costs, and producing/delivering products that are high quality in a timely manner;
- Adaptation—responding in appropriate ways to threats and opportunities by taking action or finding ways to acquire necessary materials and resources; and
- Talent—building trust and respect with, improving the knowledge/skills of, and providing motivation to employees to keep them committed to the organization.
While conventional wisdom contends that managers tend to be focused on efficiency, and leaders on adaptation, each group needs to possess both management and leadership skills if they are to successfully address all three factors that affect the organization’s performance.
Strong management alone can create bureaucracy without purpose, but strong leadership alone can drive change that disrupts operations without any practical improvement . In addition, a lack of continuity and consistency can undermine an employee’s ability to perform, while a focus on operations can limit a focus on inspiring employees to perform beyond expectations.
That’s why organizations no longer have the luxury of developing one group of people who will be leaders and another group who will be managers; to be effective, managers must also lead, and leaders must also manage.
Creating Flexible Leadership
Flexible leaders often find that they must use skills from both the management and leadership disciplines. As such, many high-potential employees may also need to develop management skills and behaviors as well as leadership ones. This helps these leaders balance efficiency, adaptation, and motivating and engaging people as needed based on the demands and challenges the business is currently facing—while also avoiding clashes from conflicting goals.
Some of the competencies flexible leaders need to to achieve this balance and avoid trading off one against the other include:
- Situational Awareness—understanding the current situation and how it impacts the business and the people working for it.
- Systems Thinking—knowing how various business systems interact and anticipating the effects of changes to those systems on one another.
- Self-Awareness—objectively analyzing one’s own mental state and knowing how it affects their judgment.
- Ability to Involve and Empower People at All Levels—motivating employees by making them a part of the process.
- Encourage and Practice Leadership by Example—modeling desired behaviors to avoid setting a “double standard” that could negatively impact employee motivation.
Need help developing flexible adaptive leaders? OnPoint is here to help with years of experience backed by active research into what works for different leadership roles and organizations. Contact us today to start building a development program to bolster your company’s future success.