Do you need leaders or managers? You need both.

“We need leaders, not managers.” No. You need both. We look to leaders for inspiration. Where does a company go without inspiration? We look to managers for execution. How does a company get there without execution?

I’ve worked with many founders who sit solely in the “leader” bucket. They have a brilliant idea. They convince everyone around them to follow. They inspire commitment.

And they don’t have the slightest idea of how to run a company. That’s where management is needed.

Everyone leads in their own way. Leadership is how you work with your strengths and inspire people to follow you.

There are best practices for management: have regular 1:1s, perform fair performance evaluations, check-in on your team’s wellbeing. Like anything else, management is a skill.

Leadership can be an informal role. Management is a formal role. Both need training. And you need both.

Leadership at all levels

Leadership doesn’t happen only at the level of “senior leaders”. It can exist at all levels of an organisation. And it doesn’t need a title.

I once worked with someone who didn’t hold a formal title, didn’t have direct reports, had never been a “manager”. Yet she still inspired people to follow her. She was the expert in her field, and that gave her the credibility to steer our team towards better software engineering practices.

On the other side, I’ve seen a senior manager in action who ticks all the boxes of management and none of leadership. He was very good at what he did. But he spent most of his time “heads down” on his work, either building our architecture strategy or working with the exec team. He didn’t make the time to provide a direction for our team. And so we weren’t inspired to follow — we were disconnected from the top.

Components of management

Management is about execution. A leader can be as inspirational as they want. But a manager needs to think about how the work gets done.

Management is important work: 1:1s. Capacity planning. Feedback. Goal setting. Hiring. Performance reviews. Promotions. Responsibility for the employee’s wellbeing. This is management. It’s the bedrock of support on which your employees can grow.

One founder I worked with, like many founders, was the quintessential leader. Charismatic and inspiring, he painted a striking vision of our future. Yet the path was rocky and improvised. When it came to management, there was little to go around — no processes, no planning, no paved roads. It wasn’t until he hired a team with management skills that a sense of balance came to the company. Without management, a little leadership can be a dangerous thing.

Your company needs both inspiration and execution. It’s not “leadership vs. management”. It’s “leadership and management”.

© Braden Moore.RSS