Leaders and Leadership: The Back-and-Forth Roles

by Stacie L. L. Morgan, PhD on 1/7/16 12:06 PM


"Role-ing" with the Changes

In the ever-present back-and-forth on management and leadership, managers as leaders, leading versus managing, and us against them, I’ve got one thing to say: “Role with it!”

Before we can ever hope to discuss what leadership is, we first have to tease out what leadership is not. So follow along with me on this journey of logic, enjoying the common scenery which is available at every turn in your own daily commute in your organization when you travel from objective to result.

The view from my thirty-plus year vantage point:

  • Management, like leadership, is a discipline
  • Manager is a position, often with the responsibility to lead or an expectation to be a leader
  • Leading, like managing, is a role
  • Us (or in this case “we”) are the employees, even if we are managers or leaders, and them (or in this case “they”) are our supervisors, bosses, or managers who try to manage and lead us.

Management and leadership are discrete disciplines with knowledge, skills, and tools to facilitate abilities that can be developed. But wait—ROAD BLOCK—can you become a leader if you’ve never managed? Hmm. Let’s see how these two roles unpack at our destination: Hypothetical Objective #1.

A Good Leader or a Good Manager

Hypothetical Objective #1 is to increase our division’s sales by 25% (never mind the arbitrary manner in which this increase was established…that is another blog post).

As a manager, how would you go about achieving this objective?

Push your team to work longer, harder, smarter, faster. You’d cheer them on or roll up your figurative sleeves and join them, you’d reward high performers, share best practices, streamline processes, analyze data; you get the gist.

These acts are those of a good leader, right? Or are they just those of a good manager?

In the same position of manager, taking on the role of leading your team, what do you do differently?

You start by sharing your objective and the purpose behind it. The first level of purpose is to tie to your organization’s vision, mission and your department’s goals. You then gather ideas for how to best attain this objective from those who are actually going to be doing the work. You then decide the best approach based on all of the strategic knowledge you just gathered from your team and explain how you arrived at your decision to them. You now have a much more dynamic plan than you could have arrived at on your own and your entire team is engaged and invested in the journey (executing the plan) and arriving at the destination (achieving the objective).

Okay, you get it so far. So what is this “us versus them” stuff? Pull over and let’s take a closer look at this natural wonder.

Employees versus Supervisors

If, “us” or “we” are the employees and” them” or “they” are our supervisors, bosses, or managers who try to manage and lead us, what does this have to do with the role, position, or disciplines of management or leadership? Referring to the examples how managers can manage and/or lead, there is a “push-pull” dynamic you may have recognized.

Managing is more akin to pushing people through processes (until they eventually break down—the people or the processes) while leadership is more like pulling people up when they think they may fall, or they actually do, so they can fix the process(es) and be managed once more…until the next time. The funny thing about this process is that “we” see those who manage us as “them”—pushing us—until they see us as them, and pull us up! Confusing, I know.

Here is another way to view it.

When you separate yourself from your team and view them as a human resource to manage, you enable perceptions of us versus them. However, when you combine your team with yourself as a human resource pool from which to extract knowledge, you combine us and them to create “we” and “our”. The synergies found in leadership and by those actually leading accentuate the value of all roles on a team and in an organization. Experience and practice these concepts in Norwich’s Master of Science in Leadership graduate program through our virtual think-tank environment as students discuss relevant real world challenges.

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This post was written by Stacie L. L. Morgan, PhD

Stacie Morgan is the Director of Norwich’s Master of Science in Leadership and Master of Science in Executive Leadership programs An international strategy consultant, speaker, author, and columnist, she is the founder and president of the strategy consulting firm Balanced Management Inc. For over 30 years, she has worked with multinational corporations, small businesses, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and the U.S. military to help individuals and organizations define and achieve success. She holds a doctoral degree in strategic management with a sub-specialty in leadership and a master’s degree in education in organizational development and training.