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  • Geoffrey James

Leadership Is the Opposite of Management

Peter Drucker not long before he died said something during an NPR interview that stuck with me. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something like: "there is too much emphasis today put on leadership; what is needed today is more emphasis on management."

The remark struck me as odd because like most people, I thought the two concepts were basically interchangeable. Over the past 15 years, though, I've come to understand that while there are a few individuals who are good at both leading people and managing people, the two skills are wildly different and even, in a certain sense, opposites.

Leadership is about inspiring people, motivating them, and getting them to do more than they ever thought possible. Management is about delimiting responsibilities, measuring results and taking remedial action. Put another way, leadership is all "upward and onward" while management is all "carrot and stick."

In my experience, few entrepreneurs (or people in general) are good at both. It's difficult to simultaneously inspire people to greatness when, at some point, you'll eventually be giving them an annual review that might involve a 2 percent raise. The two situations basically cancel each other out.

Many organizations make a clear distinction between leadership and management. The U.K. government, for example, has a monarch who provides leadership and a Prime Minister who provides management. By contrast, the U.S. government expects the President to provide both, which some do much better than others.

The most effective engineering organization I ever encountered split management and leadership into separate functions. A chief architect had the vision of where the software needed to go and motivated people to achieve that vision. The engineers, however, reported to a manager chain, who handled salaries and administration.


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