Ending the leader vs manager debate


The fable that leadership is superior to management has been bad for management and worse for leadership. The fashionable depiction sees leaders as doing the right things while managers do things right. This may sound right until you try to do the right things without doing them right.

Source: Henry Mintzberg, Bedtime Stories for Managers (2019)


Optics-wise, I can understand the allure of calling oneself a leader. But nowadays, people are wary of the “heroic”, “larger-than-life”, “charismatic” archetype that famous leaders portray and many others emulate.

Essentially, taking on audacious goals without supporting them with the right kinds of action. Thinking that the wheels of a complex operation can turn without any consideration for greasing the cogs within. So long as there’s a “vision”.

Henry Mintzberg suggests a counterbalance to this. One from the realm of mere mortal managers. The ones who are all about doing things right. Efficiency, structured thinking and developing protocols may indeed have its place.

The real challenge is finding the right balance. Ultimately, people need to be led in the right direction. But they also need enablement to carry on their duties with vigour and without slowing down to wait for a go-ahead.

“Of the best leader, when his work is done, the people all say: “we did it ourselves.” – Laozi, ancient Chinese philosopher