Is “leadership” overrated?

I read an interesting article today in the Ivy Business Journal by Mitch McCrimmon entitled REINVENTING LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT and it reminded me of a discussion I had recently with another business leader. My assertion was that the subject of leadership gets too much attention. Very few people are at the top of the leadership pyramid. Their roles are more commonly as teammates, managers or members of their bosses’ teams. Everyone can’t be THE leader. Yet so little business literature talks about how to be a great teammate or a functional manager. That’s why I enjoyed reading Mitch’s article.

Here is one of my favorite parts:

How to differentiate leadership from management

John Kotter was on the right track in saying that leaders and managers have different functions. But, crucially, we need to stick to a functional story, where everyone can engage in some managing and some leading regardless of role or style:

Leadership promotes new directions; management executes existing directions.

The function of management

Management can do much more than merely keep things ticking over. It manages complex projects ranging from making a major movie to putting the first man on the moon. Managers can use facilitative skills to foster innovation. By sticking to a purely functional definition, we leave completely open the question of style. This liberating move means that managers can be inspiring. They can empower, nurture and develop talent. An inspiring leader influences us to change direction while an inspiring manager motivates us to work harder. Managers needn’t be restricted to mechanical control, transactional rewards, bureaucratic methods or relating without empathy. Portraying managers in such negative terms was an accident of history that we now must put behind us.

To get the best out of knowledge workers, managers might set up self-managing teams. Here, the classic functions of management (planning, organizing and controlling) are delegated. But the function of management is still operating even though the manager is not personally doing it. This should dispel the myth of the manager as a control freak or bureaucrat.

By removing all style connotations, leadership benefits as much as management. No longer needing to be inspiring cheerleaders, leaders find it possible to exhibit quiet, factual leadership. This is essential in technical contexts, where a hard business case often moves stakeholders more than an inspirational delivery. Not being committed by definition to any particular style, both leaders and managers are free to use any style that works for the context in which they want to make a difference.”

Who do you know who is both a good leader and an effective manager? I’d like to interview them for the blog.