The Dangers Of Over-Emphasizing Leadership

Once the idea of “leadership” entered the corporate lexicon, a major effort to elevate the role of the leader ensued. But as organizations elevated leaders, they undervalued the roles of managers. What businesses need is a balance between leadership and management. Unfortunately, too many focus all of their attention on leadership and fail to cultivate managers.

The “Holy Grail” Of Leadership

After leadership became an important concept in business, scholars like Warren Bennis and Noel Tichy turned the idea from a corporate fad into a Holy Grail or silver bullet. They introduced pithy aphorisms like “You manage things; you lead people” and “Managers do the thing right – leaders do the right thing.”

What these scholars didn’t realize is that their unbridled celebrations of leadership contributed to the demise of management – to the detriment of organizations and employees everywhere.

The Death Of The Manager

Scholarly writing, once focused on effective management, now almost exclusively focuses on explaining, defining, and dissecting every aspect of leadership (except the definition of leadership itself.) We are now too interested in leadership: the pendulum has swung toward a clear leadership bias, creating an imbalance in the effective operation of complex enterprises by killing the manager.

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As many recent articles point out, no one wants to be a manager now; everyone wants to be a leader. This is a problem, because both roles are equally necessary. John Kotter makes a useful distinction between leaders and managers: leaders help workers deal with changes, but managers help workers deal with complexity. Workers face both change and complexity on a daily basis. Without managers to help them through complexity, organizations – including leaders – suffer.

We Need More Managers

Executives across the world buy in to the idea that organizations are over-managed and under-led. But this is patently untrue; if anything it’s the reverse.

Many CEOs and senior executives object to my use of the word “managing.” Leadership is more attractive and more glamorous – they want me to use that concept instead. Even when scholars and executives describe management functions, they resort to using leadership terms to make their points more appealing.

We must stop elevating leadership at the expense of management. In fact, what we need right now are more managers. These integral parts of organizations have been sullied by decades of bad scholarship. And it’s not just the managers who have suffered; businesses, leaders and employees look to managers to convey the big picture vision into achievable tasks, properly delegated to the right individuals – without trained and retained managers, every aspect of the business suffers. The time to revive management is now.