Leader-Managers

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss the hybrid role of leader-managers in contemporary organizations

To read articles that highlight the differences between leadership and management is to think that leadership is great and management is evil. After all, leaders inspire, and managers control. Leaders evoke passion while managers evoke obedience. Who would want to be a manager after reading things like that?

We understand now that there’s a difference between the role of leader and the role of manager in an organization, and that organizations need both to function well. Leaders do provide the vision and get buy-in from employees to believe in it and execute on it. Managers provide instruction and create conformity. Having this understanding allows us to identify organizational needs around both functions, so we can shift gears to provide it.

Furthermore, we understand that people can be leaders and managers all at once. Let’s take a look at this hybrid leader-manager role.

The late business management guru Peter Drucker said, “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”[1] Such is the leader-manager’s charge at every level in the organization.

Let’s assume that you lead the financial operations of a small portion of the company. You have accounts payable and accounts receivable functions reporting to you. You, in turn, report to the company’s comptroller. How do you, from your office without windows on the third floor, put Peter Drucker’s advice into motion?

Have a Vision

Create momentum around your vision and the company’s vision—and encourage your departments’ leaders to do the same.

Perhaps your vision for the department is to be the best finance department in the company, outperforming the financial departments that support the company’s other areas. Your job as leader is to tie that vision to the goals and beliefs of your employees. And, because leaders create other leaders, you encourage your accounts payable and accounts receivable managers to do the same with their smaller teams.

Explain Your Reasoning

Set examples and explain your reasoning to earn employee respect.

Employees often follow the examples of leaders who display integrity and strength in their interactions. The leader-manager often has to make unpopular decisions, and when he or she does, an explanation of the reasoning behind that decision can help the leader earn the respect of employees.

Accomplish Goals

Business people who have subordinates at almost every level will agree that inspiring others is their most important function, but most understand that accomplishing goals is the central concern of the work they’re doing. Without accomplish tasks, there is no productivity, no profit. If employees are motivated and excited about the work they’re doing, the leader-manager should be well on his or her way to guiding the team’s accomplishments. This is where a hybrid of managerial skill and leadership traits really moves into action.

Innovate New Solutions

Obstacles and roadblocks are commonplace in the business world. Leaders embrace risk and understand that they must be taken to grow. Leaders embrace change. Managers, on the other hand, like routine and status quo, if we are to understand the assessments of researchers correctly. As a leader-manager, you will need to assess the roadblocks you see and innovate new solutions to overcome them. Some may work and some may not.

Good Boss, Bad Boss

Robert Sutton, author of the book Good Boss, Bad Boss and Stanford University professor, noted that Warren Bennis’ statement, “The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing”[2] had some unintended negative effects on how leaders approached their work today.

In his article “True Leaders are Also Managers” for the Harvard Business Review, Sutton stated, “Some leaders now see their job as just coming up with big and vague ideas, and they treat implementing them, or even engaging in conversation and planning about the details of them, as mere ‘management’ work.”[3]

Sutton cited some of the leaders he respected most, like Steve Jobs, Francis Ford Coppola, Anne Mulcahy because they have a remarkable ability to bounce between big picture ideas and the minuscule details that eventually contribute to the fruition of their work. On this, Sutton comments[4]

I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management. Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.

He concluded by modifying Bennis’ statement, “To do the right thing, a leader must understand what it takes to do things right.” Organizations need leader-managers, people who can empower teams and guide them to their goals.

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  1. "What Is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?" The Wall Street Journal. Accessed April 29, 2019. http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/what-is-the-difference-between-management-and-leadership/.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Sutton, Robert I. "True Leaders Are Also Managers." Harvard Business Review. August 11, 2010. Accessed April 29, 2019. https://hbr.org/2010/08/true-leaders-are-also-managers.
  4. Ibid.