On Leadership versus Management

Since being elected chair of Lambda Phi Epsilon, and more recently of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, I’ve increasingly had to straddle a fine line between that of visionary leadership and pragmatic management.  As the guy that’s trying to herd cats in one direction, I find it increasingly difficult to be figuring out the direction while herding the cats themselves.  How does one do it?

Visionary Leadership:

In my mind, visionary leadership encompasses figuring out the direction of an organization, and the determination of the future state.  It’s critically important that a leader has an idea of where the organization is headed.  It’s not enough that operations maintain stable over the course of his/her term, things must improve in some way.  Thus, the leader must be a visionary in that he has initiatives he wants to accomplish and an idea of the future-state of the organization.

Pragmatic Management:

Pragmatic management involves the task of actually implementing and making things happen so that the organization moves forward into the future state.  Words without actions are meaningless, and I find that it is equally important knowing how to deal with coworkers, staff, and colleagues in order to execute.

The difficulty that I see is that most people are unable to do both effectively.  To mitigate that weakness, is it prudent to split up those responsibilities into two separate positions?  I know of several organizations, both private and public, that have done this (CEO taking care of the leading and COO in charge of the management).  My initial feeling is that this is a good model to follow and to implement.

The trick here comes when you’re managing a volunteer organization.  I sat through an excellent talk while I visited Duke University, Leading without Followers.  I think it really hit upon the point that leading volunteers takes special skill, because those people are just doing it out of the goodness of their heart.  If you can lead and manage volunteers, you can probably lead and manage anything.

Let’s see how well I’ll hold up to this task.

2 thoughts on “On Leadership versus Management

  1. What I see this being is a question of is how to structure an organic organization into an efficient well oiled machine that won’t fall off its tracks. The problem with an unincentivized organization (volunteer and sometimes non-profits) is that it is all to easy for those on the ground to lose touch with the vision of above.

    The solution of delegating horizontally by splitting the two positions is successful in a profit oriented organization because manpower is fixed. The human resource that is utilized in a for profit organization is more easily maintained in both quality and quantity through economical and efficient use of incentives (i.e. money). When you split a responsibility or function in two, the idea is productivity will be more efficient because division of labor provides more flexibility to achieve any kind of goal.

    A volunteer/non-profit organization leans much more heavily on their human capital as opposed to their financial capital. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the vertical division of responsibility is more effective at retaining and building human capital. GE for example fill half of their MBA needs internally. Why fill them internally when a for profit organization would logically shop around and hire the most qualified in the market for that position? The idea is controlling human capital and to do that we must think organically. There is a reason why some movements are called grassroot. Roots do no grow horizontally, they reach down into the ground and grasp a hold of the surrounding terrain. The same concept must be applied to an organization who’s human capital is of greater import than others, be it a volunteer, non-profit, etc.

    And that is what I really want to get in to. Yes a leader’s role is to develop a vision for an organization while driving it forward also. BUT, an effective and enduring leader must be able to develop and drive other leaders. In this context it would be the volunteers underneath. Successful and enduring leaders are those that learn to develop and nurture the talent under them, not just command them.

    In a survey from TopMBA.com, 64% and 63% of MBA candidates answered their motivation for an MBA being “improving career prospects” and “learn new skills” respectively. “Enable a career change” was much lower at 42%.
    People are much more forgiving and flexible with an organization’s vision and purpose than their own vision and purpose. Building the individuals around you and aligning their vision is stronger than passing down one from above.

    Anyways, that’s all I have to say about that. Cheers dude. IEB.

    • Excellent points Dan! I think the point you make regarding financial capital versus human capital is interesting. I think the distinctions between private and public sectors were much more evident in the past, whereas nowadays the lines are more blurred. It’s my feeling that the successful companies will treat human capital as being their primary resource. I would argue that the most successful organizations (whether they’re nonprofit or for-profit) consider human capital (versus other resources) their greatest strength. After all, employees are one of the largest expenditures for an organization.

      In a nonprofit organization, I see situations where leadership and management can be successfully split into two roles. As long as the operations/management person and the leader/visionary is aligned, the organization will have a high probability for success.

      It’s a good thing to develop how to drive other folks to success. The motivation pyramid is an interesting way to approach the problem. I won’t go into it here as it’s available on plenty of management books/sites/courses, but a lot of times I think people make the mistake of throwing that stuff out as fluff. The successful folks at life galvanize the population around them to achieve more than if they were alone. I think your comments hold a lot of weight.

      I think volunteer management requires a separate post later on…

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