Leaders and Managers

CAMBRIDGE – For the first time in decades, a United States senator will become the next American president as all three of the remaining candidates – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain – are members of the Senate. While legislators have many leadership skills, their management ability is usually unproven. Senators manage a roughly 100-member staff, and a campaign staff of several hundreds. But can they manage an executive branch employing millions?

Contemporary management theory tends to distinguish between leadership and management, and places greater emphasis on leaders. Managers are described as those who merely embrace processes and seek stability, while leaders tolerate risk and create change. Organizations need both, but leaders are more important. As one expert puts it, a guiding coalition with good managers but poor leaders will not succeed. Good leaders construct teams that combine these functions, making sure to hire subordinates who can compensate for the leader’s managerial deficiencies.

More recently, there has been renewed interest in leaders as managers. After all, vision without implementation is ineffective. Leaders need enough managerial skill to assure that systems are in place to provide the information required for good decisions as well as effective implementation. An effective leader manages and shapes the context of decisions by creating and maintaining well-designed systems.

Organizational skill is the ability to manage the structures, information flows, and reward systems of an institution or group. Leaders directly manage those who report to them, and they manage indirectly by establishing and maintaining systems for their institutions. This includes the encouragement of leadership at lower levels in their organizations.