They don’t make plans; they don’t solve problems; they don’t even organize people. What leaders really do is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it.
Leadership is different from management, but not for the reasons most people think. Leadership isn’t mystical and mysterious. It has nothing to do with having “charisma” or other exotic personality traits. It is not the province of a chosen few. Nor is leadership necessarily better than management or a replacement for it. Rather, leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. Each has its own function and characteristic activities. Both are necessary for success in today’s business environment. Management is about coping with complexity. Its practices and procedures are largely a response to the emergence of large, complex organizations in the twentieth century. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Part of the reason it has become so important in recent years is that the business world has become more competitive and more volatile. More change always demands more leadership. Most U.S. corporations today are over-managed and under-led. They need to develop their capacity to exercise leadership. Successful corporations don’t wait for leaders to come along. They actively seek out people with leadership potential and expose them to career experiences designed to develop that potential. Indeed, with careful selection, nurturing, and encouragement, dozens of people can play important leadership roles in a business organization. But while improving their ability to lead, companies should remember that strong leadership with weak management is no better, and is sometimes actually worse, than the reverse. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.