There is always a fevered debate as to whether managers also have to be leaders, and vice versa, but this debate is largely academic and ultimately pointless. Of course, there are examples of individuals who have operated successfully in both managerial and leadership roles (Napoleon Bonaparte and Dwight Eisenhower, to name but two), yet leadership and management are distinct and separate with their own requirements. Without going into an in-depth analysis of the differences here, suffice to say that leadership is outward facing and is about influencing followers to achieve objectives through vision, communication and inspiration, while management is about “the doing”, marshalling resources (both human and financial) to achieve objectives efficiently and optimally. Leaders provide the vision and the strategy, managers convert the vision into reality, the strategy into results. They require completely different (though not mutually exclusive) skill sets, where instinct and intuition (and even, sometimes, impulsiveness) are important components of a leader’s make-up, while analysis, logic and a systematic approach are required skills of a manager. Problems arise when individuals believe they can, or feel the need to, be both manager and leader in the absence of both sets of skills.
We look back and generally view Winston Churchill as a great leader, yet that reputation owes itself almost exclusively to his performance under the specific conditions of the Second World War from 1939-45. Clearly, Churchill possessed great charisma, vision, the ability to communicate and to inspire but there are countless examples of him meddling in operational matters (not just during the War) when his skills of gut instinct and intuition lead him to erroneous conclusions, where analysis and logic were instead required. Fortunately during the War, when this tendency could have had serious consequences, he was tempered by individuals around him, such as Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. In his War Diaries*, Allanbrooke wrote of Churchill in July 1940, at a time when Britain stood on the brink of invasion by Nazi Germany:
“Had an invasion developed I fear that Churchill would have attempted as Defence Minister to co-ordinate the actions of these various [single service] commands. This would have been wrong and highly dangerous, with his impulsive nature and tendency to arrive at decisions through a process of intuition, as opposed to ‘logical’ approach. Heaven knows where he might have led us!”
Alanbrooke’s observation highlights this distinction between management and leadership. There is a role for both skill sets in their own right and, where an individual truly possesses both, it is to the distinct advantage of the organisation concerned. Take the example of a leader who understands clearly his limitations as a ‘manager’. Richard Branson is one of the outstanding business leaders of his generation, clearly possessed of vision, charisma, communication skills and the ability to inspire his staff and the loyalty of his customers. In fact, it is a testimony to the “Virgin” brand that whenever operational ‘glitches’ occur in any of the franchised Virgin businesses (for example Virgin Rail in the UK), customers tend not to blame Branson himself or the brand, rather the managers of the business unit concerned. Branson clearly understands that his forté is to provide vision, excitement and inspiration, and the encouragement of innovation, and it is no accident that he is usually at the forefront of publicity stunts and ventures that signal vigour and innovation. Yet, he also appreciates that he is not best at the minutiae of management, so he develops people and structures around him that provide those skills, to convert vision and passion into operational reality, without his immediate interference. That is not to say that Branson is not also a highly astute businessman, which he is, but on those occasions where he does venture too far into the minutiae of operational matters and is liable to make mistakes, his people know that they can say; “Hands off, stick to what you are good at and leave the management to us”, without fear of Branson taking umbrage. That is both a testament to the Virgin organisational culture and an indication of why Richard Branson is both a great and successful business leader. He provides the leadership and develops and trusts people around him to implement and deliver. If he were ever to stand as Mayor of London, for example, would any other candidate stand a chance?
* Alanbrooke, L. (2001). War Diaries, 1939-1945. p. 69