The Best Leadership Is Good Management

The Best Leadership Is Good Management by Henry Mintzberg

Let me suggest that you should, because what we’ve been calling a financial crisis is actually one of management. Corporate America has had too much of fancy leadership disconnected from plain old management.

How did this happen? It became fashionable some years ago to separate “leaders” from “managers”—you know, distinguishing those who “do the right things” from those who “do things right.” It sounds good. But think about how this separation works in practice. U.S. businesses now have too many leaders who are detached from the messy process of managing. So they don’t know what’s going on.

We’re overled and undermanaged. As someone who teaches, writes, and advises about management, I hear stories about this every day: about CEOs who don’t manage so much as deem—pronouncing performance targets, for instance, that are supposed to be met by whoever is doing the real managing.

Instead of distinguishing leaders from managers, we should encourage all managers to be leaders. And we should define “leadership” as management practiced well.

Very well said. I have never been comfortable with the attempts to separate leadership from managing. Normally the tone is that leadership is what matters and managing is just then carrying out what leaders have determined and allowed.

I understand why we focus some areas of management as in the area of leadership: it is hard to understand the whole all at once. We can make sense of things more easily by breaking them down (analysis) and speaking of aspects as within the realm of leadership is part of this. We can discuss certain traits as leadership-related. And we can discuss the difference between leadership and power based on position: so leaders within an organization separate from those with authority shown on the organizational chart. But I do not see management and leadership as separate things.

Books by Henry Mintzberg: Managing (2009)Managers Not MBAsThe Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning

Related: Akio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real LeadershipSeven Leadership Leverage PointsIf Your Staff Doesn’t Bring You Problems That is a Bad SignManagement Improvement Leaders

Leadership is not separate from execution. But the idea of leadership as “doing the right things” while management is “doing things right” concepts serve to separate leadership from execution. But “doing the right things” poorly is not good leadership and “doing things well” that shouldn’t be done is not good management. As Deming’s management philosophy (system thinking) management is about many interconnected, interdependent areas that cannot be separated into distinct areas.

6 Leadership Competencies from my favorite management book: The Leader’s Handbook.

7 thoughts on “The Best Leadership Is Good Management

  1. Beth Armknecht Miller

    John,

    Your article supports John Kotter’s article in the Harvard Business Review that the ideal manager is really a leader/manager. Leader/ managers can inspire and lead people to a vision and at the same time manage and execute to appropriate processes, procedures, incentives etc.

    Reply
  2. I've heard it said that managers have subordinates and leaders have followers. Ultimately it is the job of the manager to set a startegy, purpose, values and vision for this team. To me the cross over is fuzzy.

    Reply
  3. I like the explanation… Too much thinkin’, too little doin’ what was known to work. I’m not sure I believe that’s really the ROOT cause of the problems we’re experiencing right now, but it undoubtedly plays a part in it.

    Reply
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