Leadership and Management: A Balancing Act

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Judith Henry

Organizations continue to voice concern about the shortage of skilled workers and the lack of knowledge transfer from the retiring generation to the next. These discussions emphasize the need to manage the crisis but skip the discussion around leadership. Management is present tense while leadership is future oriented. Management trains workers for current needs. Leadership looks to develop the workforce of the future. Where management is the tactical ability to steer a course through the known and current environment, leadership is the strategic ability to steer a course toward the unknown future environment. You manage things and processes. You lead people. Organizations need people who know how to do both.

Why do organizations have managers who cannot lead? Many managers start at entry-level positions, work hard and become proficient at a specific job. When leadership positions become available, these individuals are often the first considered for promotions. It is assumed that if they can manage their job well, they can lead others. Leadership and management are not completely separate skills. Nor is one more important than the other. They are both essential and they both play a part in the everyday actions you take.

Individuals in leadership positions have the most influence on employee retention and development. Relying too heavily on management or leadership creates an imbalance detrimental to you the leader as well as your organization. To balance the two, begin by considering where your emphasis should be. You take many actions and make a variety of decisions daily. With each one, consider your desired goal. Are you trying to boost production by week’s end or is your goal to meet a strategic objective 18 months out? Example: You decide to delegate a project to a team leader. Is this leading or managing?
Delegation can help the team leader develop and grow through increased responsibility and decision making (leadership) while helping you better manage your time (management). Which is your priority: to save time for yourself or to develop the employee? Balancing leadership and management requires reflection around the question, "What am I doing that will help me get to the end of the week and what am I doing to help my company strategically?" Effective leaders understand that their success lies in how well they can answer this question and consequently balance their leadership and management abilities.