Are You Planning Your Way to "Management" or "Leadership"?

With the calendar year drawing to a close, it's common to find ourselves planning for the 12 months which lie in front of us. Planning is an essential tool of organizational and personal life. It helps us anticipate problems, prioritize our efforts, and see opportunities. But the role of planning in the life of an exceptional leader is often misunderstood. Many people today categorize planning as a function of “management.” Most famous in his analysis of the differences between “leadership” and “management” is author and teacher John Kotter. Kotter has long contended that management is the ability to plan, organize, and control outcomes while leadership is the ability to set direction, align resources, and motivate and inspire. Kotter has asserted that the world is full of organizations and individuals who mistake management for leadership and suffer the consequences of doing so.

Kotter has given a gift to the world in his analysis. He has pulled the heads of countless leaders out of the sand to be able to see that leadership is more than the management of processes that predictably produce results. The unfortunate shrapnel of Kotter’s teachings, however, is the demonization of management and lack of understanding about its role within leadership.

A Leader Without Results

How would you evaluate a leader who never produced the end results that were needed? Would that leader be outstanding for having good ideas alone, ideas that never reached fruition? Unlikely. Such people are known as “talkers.” They don’t earn loyal followers or even maintain their leadership positions over time. A leader without results eventually becomes a leader without followers. And a leader without followers is not a leader at all.

The “leadership vs. management” debate is inherently flawed. While the two are indeed different, they can’t accurately be placed against one another. Management is a part of leadership. Great leadership can’t exist without an understanding of and appreciation for the planning, organizing, and controlling that is management. To pit management against leadership is the equivalent of saying, “Which is better—your heart or your body?” The question is a non-starter because your heart is part of your body. You’re body doesn’t survive without your heart and is simultaneously made of many other important parts in addition to your heart. Just as a healthy body has a healthy heart within it, great leadership has effective management ticking away inside.

Why Oh Why Does Any of This Matter?

For those who are students of leadership—as all who wish to reach their leadership potential need to be—an accurate understanding of the role that management plays in effective leadership is important. Understanding that effective management lives within effective leadership enables us to value it properly giving it no more and no less than it's due.

As planning becomes the focus for so many this time of year, smart leaders need not begrudge the time they invest in this endeavor as being a non-leadership activity. Planning is a key component of management and management is an essential aspect of leadership that directly links to real results. Though spending the entire year doing nothing but management would be a grave leadership mistake, neglecting it altogether would be one as well.

So chin up, leadership learners and savants. Your efforts in planning are not lowly management practices but essential basics to ensuring you have results, results that earn you followers, and followers who earn you the role of leader.

Share Your Thoughts: Have you ever followed a leader who significantly lacked management skills? What was the result? How would you rate the organizational credibility of that leader? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

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