Leadership and Management: A More Productive Discussion



Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Flyfishing teaches me a lot about life, especially business life.  One of the lesson’s I relearn regularly in flyfishing, and life, is to slow down.

Casting a fly rod is a great example where the faster you move the rod back and forth, the worse your cast. Instead of shooting out 90 to 100 feet, more often than not your line lands in a pile just a few feet away. And the more hectic and stressed you are in business, the worse you perform, especially when it comes to important decisions.

Another of flyfishing’s business lessons is to move on and not, as my Dad used to say, “flog the water into a froth”.  If you make a good cast two or three times to the same area of water without a trout rise, it is time to move on.  Either no trout around, or they are not interested in your fly.  Either way, continued casting is a waste of time with zero return of effort.

And in the business literature, there are plenty of people flogging the same water over and over again with zero return.  One of those continuous discussions and debates that has raged ever since the beginning of modern management is the difference between Leadership and Management. In his 1989 book “On Becoming a Leader,” management guru Warren Bennis composed a list of the differences:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

All this sounds a little “elitist” to me, with one being viewed as somehow superior to the other.

To me this debate was settled a long time ago by recognizing that leaders and managers are one in the same, just facing different situations or contexts.

It’s not the title on the door, it’s how they behave given the task. Both must have skills, insight, compassion, respect for people, courage and drive. It’s the context, or situation that dictates what role they must perform. A good manager can lead a team of people well.  A good leader can manage a project and people well.

If the comparison is about those 1 in a million game-changing leaders like Steve Jobs or Jack Welch versus the rest of us, that’s a different debate altogether.

Leadership is a lot like flyfishing; you can do it for decades and realize there is still a lot more to learn!

A New Twist

“Let’s move on to more productive waters!”  ~my Dad

But there is some new insight that can be gained if we move on to more productive waters and explore the difference between a Leadership Team and a Management Team. Here is where the real differences show up.

Too often, a leadership team isn’t really a team, but a collection of senior executives who sit together once a week (or month, or less) but work on separate issues.  Let me explain using this diagram of where most senior leaders focus their attention, energies and efforts.

functional silos


What is supposed to be a leadership team composed of the CEO and VPs is really a group with very different agendas. The CEO is the only one with an “enterprise perspective”, who is concerned about how the company as a whole functions.  The other members of the senior team, is this case the VPs, all tend to focus on their functions or departments. They have individual budgets to meet, functional metrics to achieve, and either cost or profit targets to deliver. And most of their time is focused downward, into their respective functions, dealing with personnel, production and customer issues.

What’s wrong with this? Isn’t it important to have “functional excellence”?

Yes and No.  Functional excellence is important, but it’s not what running a business is about. Business is about delivering a product or service to a satisfied customer, at a profit and faster and better than your competitors. One department can’t do that alone, it takes all functions and departments working together, not working separately. You can’t deliver on a business strategy by just maximising individual functions. Functional budgets should be guidelines for delivering an overall enterprise strategy, not independent objectives to be delivered.

A business strategy cuts across all functions and requires coordination, transfer of information, moving resources around where needed, and most importantly, rapidly adapting to external market changes. That takes sharing across functions, willingly, openly, quickly and with complete transparency. When the company needs to redeploy assets and resources (people and capital) to respond to market shifts, most functional leaders hold on tightly to their people and budgets, thus slowing down the agility of the company to respond. It’s natural since their focus is functional excellence, not enterprise excellence and most senior managers have the lion’s share of their bonus in delivering their functional budgets and objectives, not overall enterprise objectives.

When Bill Catucci became the new CEO of AT&T Canada, they were losing $1 million Canadian every day.  As he went around to meet the leadership team and asked why they were losing money, the common reply was: “My department is on budget and hitting its numbers; it must be some other department’s fault!”

alan_mulally_ford_ceoWhen Alan Mulally took over at Ford and engineered a turnaround, one of his first acts was to make all senior executives accountable for the overall enterprise health and objectives, and he put 100% of their bonus compensation on delivering enterprise results. Functional goals were what their paycheck was for. Bonuses were for enterprise success. And the only way to deliver was working together.

Here is the chart I often use to describe how to both deliver on enterprise objectives and functional objectives.



In essence, the leadership team drives the delivery of the overall enterprise strategy and objectives, sharing information, resources and people when and where needed. The next level, what I call the management team, takes care of the day-to-day business and delivers on functional objectives.

Both require management and leadership skills, but do their work in different contexts!

To me, this is much more “productive waters” and tends to result in some big accomplishments, like the turnaround of Ford Motor Company without the need for a Government bailout!

Productive water also brings the opportunity for other rewards as well.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

e: john@johnrchildress.com
Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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