The paradox of traditional understanding of leadership unpacked well by Luis E. Romero for Forbes. Its time to disrupt leadership for a digital world.

For decades, the mainstream paradigm has been that leaders and managers think and behave so differently that, in most cases, there is a conflict of interest between them. On the one hand, we are told that leaders are visionary, creative, empathetic and disruptive. On the other hand, we are told that managers like control, rationality, stability and predictability. Despite these seemingly irreconcilable differences, though, most organizations require their managers to develop leadership skills in order to move up the ranks. Likewise, organizations appoint high-ranking leaders with a truckload of management responsibilities. Consequently, there must be something wrong with the ruling paradigm. Let’s see why.

The Origin Of The Theory

In 1977, Prof. Abraham Zaleznik published his famous article “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different“ in Harvard Business Review. There, he claimed that leadership and management are two completely separate skill sets. He also argued that organizations focusing on hiring and training good managers may also inhibit the development of good leaders, and vice versa. Furthermore, he implied that people who get to develop expert-level management skills may, as a result, hinder their own leadership potential, and vice versa. With all due respect to Prof. Zaleznik, such statements contradict what I have experienced and witnessed as a management consultant, business coach and entrepreneur.

Let’s review Zaleznik’s contentions further. Let’s analyze three short excerpts from the article in question in light of today’s actual business demands. The first excerpt reads,

It is easy to dismiss the dilemma of training managers […] by saying that the need is for people who can be both [manages and leaders]. But just as a managerial culture differs from the entrepreneurial culture that develops when leaders appear in organizations, managers and leaders are very different kinds of people. They differ in motivation, personal history, and in how they think and act.

The foregoing statement may be true for some people, but it is definitely not true for many others. It ignores the existence of thousands of business leaders worldwide who, on the one hand, are ultimately responsible for introducing disruptive innovations and developing an entrepreneurial culture in their organizations while, on the other hand, are also ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance on all fronts, meeting deadlines and keeping a healthy bottom line. From manufacturing companies to telecomm giants to professional services firms, there are plenty of business leaders who are in charge of envisioning a brighter future while safeguarding a feasible present. That is, they are simultaneously good leaders and good managers.