Leading v. Managing: to Lead or to Manage … those are not the questions
6:12am - 04/Apr/2019

The leadership-management polarity debates have evolved over time. In particular, what is the difference between leading and managing? Are they polar extremes on the same continuum, or are they two axes that intersect? Is there indeed a dichotomy? Are leadership and management mutually exclusively? Is it a matter of “either or,” or could it be “both and?”

In Leaders, Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus assert, “There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important” (Bennis and Nanus, 20).[1] They sum up the crucial distinction as: “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing. The difference may be summarized as activities of vision and judgment – effectiveness – versus activities of mastering routines – efficiency.”

The Bass Handbook of Leadership, edited by Bernard M. Bass, addresses with the concepts of leadership. It states that the “concepts of leadership, headship, and management need to be distinguished from each other although the same person may be a department head and a leader of his or her department” (Bass, 23).[2] In its discourse on managerial work, it posits that there is an overlap between leading and managing which is perceived when “one considers the human factor and the interpersonal activities involved in managing and leading” (Bass, 652). However, the handbook indicates that there is “a line of reasoning that draws a sharp distinction between leadership and management … [l]eaders are more transformational; managers are more transactional … Leaders do the more correct things; managers do things correctly” (Bass, 653).

In Managing Polarities in Congregations, Roy M. Oswald and Barry Johnson assert that “[t]here is a major difference between management and leadership.” They continue, “[w]e hope those in responsible roles within a congregation will possess the skills to do both, though it is rare that any individual is equally competent in these two arenas” (Oswald and Johnson, 75).[3] They conclude that “Managing AND Leading are both essential to a thriving congregation” (p. 88).

In Simply Managing, Henry Mintzberg suggests that “[i]nstead of distinguishing leaders from managers, we should be seeing managers as leaders, and leadership as management practiced well.”

The bottom line is that albeit leading and managing are not synonymous, but they do need to be synergistic. It is not a matter of division, leading/managing, but one of union, leading+managing, that results in multiplication, leading*managing. It is time to resolve the disconnect that has led to organizations, both in the secular world and in the sacred sanctum of the church, where they are either overmanaged and underled, or overled and undermanaged (Mintzberg 7).[4] There needs to be a balance of both leading and managing.

The Center for Leadership Studies has promulgated the Situational Leadership® Model, developed by Dr. Paul Hersey fifty years ago. It is a framework to remind those in leadership roles to match their behaviours with the needs of those whom they influence. The Center’s DACA model addresses the diagnosis of the individuals’ readiness to perform the task, then to adapt the leaders’ behaviours to relate to those individuals and the tasks to be assigned to them, and to communicate accordingly to them with the goal of advancing toward higher performance.

Over the same period, Dr. Ken Blanchard and collaborators have proffered thought leadership regarding leading and managing people. They have released a series of “the One Minute Manager” books that connect leadership and management. The Ken Blanchard Companies believes that “great managers aren’t born, they’re trained,” and has been promulgating the Situational Leadership® II (SLII) model. The SLII model also addresses the leader’s behaviours, whether to use a directive (task) or a supportive (people) approach, based on the development level of those whom they lead.

Back in 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase “servant leadership” in his essay, “The Servant as Leader.” Then in 1977, Greenleaf shared his insight through his book Servant Leadership. Two decades later, Greenleaf published The Power of Servant Leadership. The notion of the servant-leader as servant first, as opposed to the opposite pole of being the leader first, has gained momentum over the past half century. The Robert K Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership and the Ken Blanchard Companies are proponents of the philosophy and principles of servant leadership. Moreover, for some time now, Berrett-Koehler Publishers has been promoting a “New Leadership Paradigm” based on servant-leadership.

What are your thoughts about leadership and management? I have distilled my thoughts in a visual (click here). Whereas leadership concerns effectiveness and management concerns efficiency, and are on different axes, they work in tandem to enable efficacy and improve productivity. In Christian ministry, we need to do the right things and do them right.

In subsequent posts over the next few months, we will address the dynamics of leading+managing. In a follow-up post, the “5D’s of contextual management,” we will undertake an exegetical exercise to learn how the LORD Jesus Christ led His disciples and managed the ministry work. In another post, the “5 Phases of TEAM FORMation,” we will look at the transitional stages of teams of people (the influencers and the influenced). Another post, the “5 Faces of the DARCI Pyramid,” will articulate the multifaceted model of team roles and responsibilities to ensure all team members are on the same page of what is expected of them as integral partners and participants on the team.


[1] Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. 2007. Leaders. HarperCollins.

[2] Bernard M. Bass. 2008. The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications. Free Press.

[3] Roy M. Oswald and Barry Johnson. 2010. Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities. Rowman & Littlefield.

[4] Henry Mintzberg. 2013. Simply Managing: What Managers Do – and Can Do Better. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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