Seven reasons we need managers, not leaders

Leadership articles often generate a lot of comments discussing differences between leading and managing. People provide definitions and quotes to reinforce their points of view. This week, John M McKee may be adding to the heat.

The United States is facing a crisis of management. Not leadership. Management.

Nearly three years after the start of "The Great Recession," there's still no end in sight. The Feds report that unemployment is +9.5%, but those figures are drastically understated. The real figures include people who have given up looking or are no longer on unemployment insurance — they aren't counted. If you include those individuals, the real national level is more like 12% - 13%.

Across this country and outside it, people talk about the reasons for the slow recovery of the still-dominant U.S. economy. A lot of reasons are cited. Among the more popular are mortgage issues, fear of inflation/deflation, the growing strength of China, gridlock in the government,...and a lack of leadership.

Each of these is important. But none of them is the most critical factor. The single most important reason is that we have a management issue.

The United States (along with many other Western countries as well) has too many leaders. In fact, I believe that we're probably "over-led." And we no longer have enough managers; we're undermanaged.

In his seminal work on the differences between leadership and management, John P. Kotter noted a few of the most critical: 1. "Leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action…… Both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment." 2. "Strong leadership with weak management is no better, and is sometimes actually worse, than the reverse." 3. "Management is about coping with complexity….. Without good management, complex enterprises tend to become chaotic… Good management brings a degree of order and consistency…."

In these difficult times, we need hands-on men and women who:

4. Can figure out how to move things forward using the talent and resources already in place. 5. Understand what makes things tick in their company or industry. 6. Know how to push their organizations, their communities and their businesses to make change.

In short, what managers do.

However, many managers don't have the power to help the organization succeed. Too often, they can't create change because those at higher levels on the org chart are detached leaders who really don't understand how things get done in their own place.  7. At this point in the recession, here's what we don't need:
  • more setting of targets to be achieved
  • more communication campaigns (especially ones with slogans)
  • another offsite meeting with an expensive facilitator
  • leaders who are too busy because they're doing things outside their organization

What we do need are more people at the top who actually understand how to do things themselves. These are the new power players — men and women who can manage and, at the same time, show others how to get stuff done.

Instead of trying to define the differences between leaders and managers, let's just get back to having managers who can lead us back to success.

Here's to the future...


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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