Do Managers Need to Be Leaders?

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 24th February 2016

Now here’s an interesting question. You might want to begin by reading our blog post on the difference between leadership and management.

Are managers and leaders really different?

Some thinkers and writers would argue (Henry Mintzberg for one) that leadership is a subset of management, that the two are inextricably linked, and that therefore the question is moot.

True to form, I disagree. While this may have been (a bit) true when the terms were first bandied about in the 20th century, our understanding and definition of them has developed and diverged to such an extent that they now stand, if not alone, then as fields that only intersect to a moderate degree. This manager / leader Venn diagram is worthy of consideration.


In essence, the two ‘fields’ exist for related but different reasons, and to some extent pull in different directions. Management is primarily about control and compliance, leadership about inspiration, engagement and improvement.

The science of management is focused on the organisation, planning, coordination and control of activities and resources in order to deliver defined outcomes. The art of leadership is that of inspiring others, and thereby unleashing their potential in the pursuit of a shared vision.

A few moments of analysis will show that there is indeed some intersection here (achieving desired goals, deploying resources, and shaping performance), but that quite a number of aspects are discrete. Equally, it is possible to see that the skill-sets required will both overlap and differ in similar vein.

Should managers also be leaders?

Back to the central question, then. Do managers need to be leaders? Essentially, it depends what outcomes you are attempting to deliver.

Dual approach:

Those with the responsibility of taking a team, function or organisation in a particular direction, or of delivering particular results, will inevitably have to deploy both skill-sets. They will need to control and preserve processes that are known to work in the current context. However, they will also need to inspire people to share their vision and goals.

Pure management:

There will, however, be some roles, some teams, or some results that are perfectly well served by adopting a pure manager stance. This includes where the focus is restricted to just the deployment and coordination of resources and processes to deliver known results in a repeatable way.

I suspect, though, that the number of roles that can be delivered in this way is diminishing rapidly. I would also suggest that even those roles where such an approach is possible could be greatly improved by incorporating a leadership approach to some degree.

To conclude, while managers can just be managers and don’t need to be leaders in every case, they often do, and would usually benefit from it.

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