There has been a lot of discussion recently around the differences between leadership and management. In fact, NAEM presented a great webinar in May about this very topic. While these discussions often provide good insight, too often they belittle the role of managers and stress leadership above other attributes.
To me, the difference between leadership and management is definitional rather than philosophical. Things are managed; people need to be led. However, in order to be effective one must have both leadership and management skills.
Effective leaders inspire others to elevate their game — but they also understand the technical issues, leverage their specialized knowledge and utilize data correctly. As the great Canadian physician Thomas McCrae once noted, “More is missed by not looking than by not knowing.”
Too often these days, executives seem to be in a rush to label themselves as “leaders” rather than “managers.” I believe we are currently seeing a rash of instances in which a lack of management skills has done in prominent leaders. A recent example of this can be seen in The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of JPMorgan’s recent multi-billion dollar investment loss debacle:
“On April 30, associates who were gathered in a conference room handed [JPMorgan Chairman and CEO Jamie] Dimon summaries and analyses of the losses. But there were no details about the trades themselves. “I want to see the positions!” he barked, throwing down the papers, according to attendees. “Now! I want to see everything!”
When Mr. Dimon saw the numbers, these people say, he couldn’t breathe.”
This was a leader who forgot to manage until it was too late — and it resulted in the loss of billions of dollars.
Over the years, I have seen many EHS initiatives fail due to lack of leadership. But I’ve also seen just as many fail because they were poorly managed. While leadership and management are different skills, they are not mutually exclusive. Both must be present to be effective.
So the next time you see an article touting the importance of leadership over managerial skills, remember that the most effective executives and managers possess and use both. As the 1988 hit song by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock reminds us, “It takes two to make a thing go right/It takes two to make it outta sight.”