The difference between management and leadership
08 February 2016
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Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Old Mutual Live Business. My name is Chris Gibbons. Many of us who work in organisations aspire to climb the rungs of the management ladder to become general managers and who knows, maybe one day even the Chief Executive. But along the way we also hear a great deal about companies needing great leaders.
Leaders, managers, managers, leaders, aren’t they the same thing and if not, what is the difference? We’re joined now by someone who knows a great deal about this, Professor Nick Binedell, Founder, former Dean of GIBS, the Business School. But he’s now Professor of Strategy and Leadership. Nick Binedell, welcome to Old Mutual Live Business. Management and leadership, is there a difference?
The chief difference between the roles
Nick Binedell: Thanks Chris, it’s good to be with you. Well, of course, there is a difference, although they overlap quite a great deal and sometimes it’s hard to separate them. Leaders, a task of a leader is really to shape the future, to take risk, to think innovatively and to ensure that people in the organisation or the team get the mission, get the purpose and are motivated to do that.
It’s a different thing than management which is more an administrative kind of role in which you’re trying to organise. You’re trying to ensure execution. You’re managing decision making that is often a little more operational, but they overlap very significantly.
CG: Which is more important?
NB: Well, they’re both important. I think as you said, as you work your way up the organisation, what you do tends to shift. As you move up levels, you tend to do a bit more leadership as you move up the organisation and a bit more management when you start out or in middle management. They really blend and good managers are also good leaders and good leaders are also good managers. They’re very vital functions and roles to play.
CG: Can either skill be taught? Could I learn to be a great manager, could I learn to be a great leader?
Action speaks louder than words
NB: In spite of the fact that business schools teach all this stuff, most of it we learn by doing and the ability to learn by success and failure, from doing it in action. You can teach these subjects, you can study them, you can watch others do it.
I certainly learnt many of my managerial and leadership skills by watching both good and bad leaders at work and also reflecting on the things that I messed up and the things that sometimes I got right. A lot of it is just by doing and reflection and thoughtful doing and stepping back at the end of the day and saying to yourself: how did the day go? What actually happened today?
To think at a sort of slightly higher level, as we always say, not working in the organisation, but working on the organisation. Don’t just work in your job, work on your job and think about what happened in meetings, what happened with decisions. How did the team function, how did I function and learn to distinguish between these two very important skills.
Leaders can most certainly be made
CG: How do you respond then to the suggestion that in fact managers can be made, but leaders are born that way?
NB: I think both can be learnt, but I think early experiences in life about management are very, very important. These days in education, if I think back to mine at school, it was very much individuals dealing with stuff. We did very little group work.
Today schooling is far more group oriented, even universities are far more group oriented, so we can learn managerial skills which are often about the team and operational, as I said earlier. We can learn quite a lot about that and we can study a bit about it.
Leadership, people think sometimes that leaders are born, not made, I disagree with that. I think some people have an innate ability to lead, often cause of their background or their personality and they can either grow it or not. But I’ve seen many good managers learn to lead as they take on more and more responsibility.
CG: You say the two are equally important, but surely without great leadership, without knowing where you’re going, how you’re going to get there is almost irrelevant?
NB: It’s a bit like arguing, who is more important, the stomach or the brain. They’re interdependent. I’ve seen very good leaders with very little managerial skill, not managed to get things done in an organisation. They’ve got good ideas but they can’t run the system. I’ve seen many leaders or CEO’s who are very good at managing, but aren’t able to develop the kind of drive and vision and energy to take it where it needs to go and can’t deal with the hard issues that leaders need to deal with.
The importance of good communication
CG: Sometimes and here Napoleon comes to mind, a great leader needs a great manager alongside him. Napoleon, a visionary leader, needed the management skills of his long-time colleague, Marshal Berthier, to translate that vision into practice. In those days, of course, it came down to something as simple as being able to read Napoleon’s handwriting and get the orders out into the field safely and securely. That hasn’t really changed has it?
NB: No, I don’t think it has at all, that you’re able to communicate clearly, both formerly and informally is absolutely critical to decision making. As is getting the job done, following through, measuring, checking, ensuring that the detail is done correctly.
Very often we think of leaders as big picture visionaries, but a lot of good leadership is about detail, practice, about things that really matter. Some details really matter and good leaders are very strong on following them up, if not ruthless.
CG: Nick, can you give me a couple of examples of great leaders, people who have really stood out, in your cannon?
Examples of great leaders
NB: I think there’s so many business or other leaders that have made such an extraordinary contribution and you’ve got to think about the entrepreneurial kind of leader. If we think about today, around the world, the Zuckerberg’s of the world who have managed to take an idea and leverage it into a business concept. But much more importantly than that, build an organisational capability around it.
I remember in the early days of Microsoft, when I lived in Seattle, everyone talked about Bill Gates as a visionary. Then I met people who worked with him and they said he was also a good executive, the same is true of Steve Jobs and many others.
In this country we have very strong management skills, not always the technological or innovative skills we need, but very strong leaders who have built outstanding organisations from scratch. If I think of EOH and Asher Bohbot who was an IT manager in a big company when I met him years ago. Look what he’s done in the last 20 years. There are many of these individuals around. The Adrian Gore who has been building Discovery for 30 years, we have mature companies led by outstanding CEO’s, the banks, so South Africa has got a plethora of business leadership.
Of course, what we’re going through now is a massive sea change in the issues and as Peter Drucker once said: the questions are timeless, the answers depend on the circumstances and in a low growth economy, we do, to some extent, need a different set of skills. It’s much more about reading the terrain now and deciding, okay, in the next 90 days, what are we going to get done? In 2016, how do we take advantage of the fact that we’re in a tougher environment and those do call for different skills.
CG: Final question Nick, if you’re at the top of a company, if you are the CEO, how do you set about looking down into the organisation to spot the next great leader?
How to spot leadership potential
NB: To spot the next great leader is a very interesting question. Firstly, let me say that it’s very important that leaders at every level are looking into the engine of whatever they’re doing and are spending enough being well informed about what’s going on tactically and operationally. That you’ve got relationships with people at multiple levels.
Being remote and in your office and locked away from the battle is really a bad and wrong place to be in these fast changing times. So, I think in the same as running the business by having a good operational sense, no matter what level you’re at. Knowing the people is equally important. Many executives spend a lot of time networking in their organisation, both formally at conferences and elsewhere, but also informally by walking around, by keeping your eye open.
I remember a couple of years ago one of the CEO’s of one of the biggest banks, I went to a function, I was looking to see him, to talk about something and I couldn’t find him. Finally I saw he was in the corner of the room talking to one person, he had that ability to just get out of the limelight, float around, talk to people and take the impressions about how the organisation is doing and who is doing what.
Very often leaders get isolated because of the hierarchy and their influence, so it’s very good for leaders to break the rules and break the boundaries. Even by getting outside the organisation and exploring what’s going on out there, informally. Not with clients, but in the broader context of where things are and that’s especially true of South Africa right now.
CG: Excellent advice there from Professor Nick Binedell, Founder and former Dean of GIBS, the Business School, now Professor of Strategy and Leadership. Nick Binedell, thank you for being with me on Old Mutual Live Business.