ATD Blog

Are You a Leader or a Manager? You Need to Be Both.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

There are many different theories about leadership. For instance, some people tout the notion that “leaders are born, not grown.” Others believe that leaders need to be infallible—performing flawlessly at all times, in all situations. Sounds simple, right?

But judging by all the books, training, and discussion on the topic, leadership seems very complicated. But here are four simple truths:

  • Anyone can be a leader and a manager. 
  • You will have to be both a leader and a manager in your work; choosing when to switch roles is the trick. 
  • Managers optimize the organization and its people to meet strategic goals. 
  • Leaders drag the organization and its people kicking and screaming into a strategic future.

In the classic Harvard Business Review article “What Leaders Really Do,” author John Kotter asserts that "most U.S. corporations today are over-managed and under-led." He explains that leadership is different from management, but not for the reasons most people think.

Leadership isn't mystical and mysterious, nor is it necessarily better than management or a replacement for it. Rather, leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. According to Kotter, each has its own function and characteristic activities. What’s more both are necessary for success in today's business environment.


Kotter goes on to explain that management is about using processes and procedures to cope with the complexity of large organizations. By contrast, leadership is about coping with change—a growing concern as the business world responds to rapid tech advancements, a more global economy, and generally becomes more competitive and volatile.


Bottom line: more change always demands more leadership. And Kotter says that most U. S. corporations today need to develop their capacity to exercise leadership. He is quick to remind, though, that while improving their ability to lead, companies should also remember that strong leadership with weak management is no better. The real challenge is to combine strong leadership and strong management and use each to balance the other.

Enter the ATD Certificate in Strategic Leadership, a program geared to help you grow your leadership competence. Through assessments, simulations, role play, and individualized feedback, discover how to create your personal leadership style, influence team members, and build relationships across organizations. Specifically, you will learn how to:

  • cultivate your leadership self-awareness to motivate and lead others through change and uncertainty 
  • develop your collaboration skills so you can leverage relationships for improved performance 
  • apply techniques that effective leaders use in coaching and mentoring teams, and individuals, to reach high levels of engagement.

If you want to learn how to manage change and transition while leading others and aligning actions and priorities with strategic direction, join me in an upcoming ATD Certificate in Strategic Leadership. See you there!

About the Author

Lou Russell is president and CEO of Russell Martin & Associates. She is the author of the ATD Press books Project Management for Trainers, Leadership Training and 10 Steps to Successful Project Management, among other titles. In addition to her many books, she contributes frequently to Computer World, Cutter Executive Reports, and Network World, among others, and publishes Learning Flash, an electronic newsletter.

Lou speaks at several national and international conferences, such as the Project Management Institute, Project World, and LotuSphere. She holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Purdue University, where she taught database and programming classes, and a master's degree in instructional technology from Indiana University.

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