In recent years, authors like John Maxwell, Seth Godin, and Jim Collins have made leadership sexy, a thing to be pursued and desired. Where leadership books and seminars were once for those in positions of leadership they now function as road maps for the millions of aspiring bosses, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. Our society is obsessed with leading. That’s because we live in a society of people looking to put themselves ahead, to be recognized, to be influential. Leadership is prized and anything else ought to be nothing but a stepping-stone to it. In the process of over-inflating leadership we have deflated the importance of management.
A false dichotomy has been set up pitting leadership against management. Leaders are forward-thinking, entrepreneurial, inspirational, make-it-happen types. Managers are laggardly luddites who do little but meddle and muddle the direction of the leader. People thrive under leaders but wilt under management. Management harasses its minions about TPS reports and showing up for work five minutes late. Leadership casts a vision for greatness and everyone follows with vim and vigor. While this is certainly true in some organizations, it is a caricature, a depiction of the situation that emphasizes the worst and ignores the good.
Real leaders recognize they need managers, people who can implement that inspiring vision. Real leaders recognize they must manage their own time, their resources, and their staff. They recognize good managers as their greatest assets. This is because management is one of the essential elements of productivity whether you run a Fortune 500 company, a rural church of 100 members, or a professional baseball team.
Conversely, managers ought to realize they need leaders. Most people are not gifted to lead, but many can manage. These men and women will function far short of their potential if they are not led well, and while there are some managers who can lead and some leaders who can manage, most often their respective strengths serve best to complement each other. In a working or ministry relationship where there is two-way respect between management and leadership a dynamic develops that maximizes both sets of abilities, a symbiotic relationship allowing both parties to be healthy and strong.
While it is easy to recognize the need for strong leadership it is equally as risky to overlook the value of gifted managers. There ought not be a stigma attached to the word “manage” as if it is a lesser gifting or calling than to “lead,” or that it is somehow redundant and unnecessary. Our workplaces and ministries will suffer if we fall into the cultural stereotyping of managers as minutiae-bound, small-picture thinkers. It would serve us well to find those who recognize their own management abilities, see themselves as part of a greater whole, and are not gunning for the top spot. Leadership is a great thing, but without good managers even the best leaders struggle.