“Leaders vs Managers” is pernicious and probably gendered

It’s not uncommon to see the following kinds of thoughts expressed on Twitter:

These are indicative of a broader sentiment that somehow “management” and “leadership” are mutually exclusive, with the former being top-down, controlling, and bad, and “leadership” is bottom-up, inspiring, and good.

This is pernicious, particularly in its crass appeal.

Leadership is necessary, but insufficient. “Leaders” don’t take the time to engage with individual team members and understand how they want to develop, coach them through handling obstacles, fight for the resources they need to do good work, or see through the details of crucial organizational matters such as crafting career ladders, developing skills assessments, and spearheading recruiting and hiring.

Managers do.

A good manager takes care of the people on her team, enables and empowers them, sets them up for success, and guides their progress. A good manager listens to her team members and helps shape their jobs to enable them to get the most out of their work.

Now, the world is filled with not-good managers. Micromanagers who are uninterested in their team’s development, who see management as a means to achieve or express power, who begrudgingly took the role because it appeared to be the only way to grow in their careers.

Just because there are not-good managers, we shouldn’t be dismissive of management.

Instead we need to identify and celebrate the good managers, call attention to how their efforts make our organizations (and industry!) stronger, and hold them up as models for others to emulate.

Sidebar, the gendered thing:

From what I’ve seen, this dichotomy of management/leadership is posited by white men. And in the dismissiveness towards management I sense a dismissiveness towards qualities of a good manager — nurturing, empathetic, patient — that are societally coded as feminine. And also a dismissiveness of management because white men, historically, haven’t needed good managers in order to help them succeed. For all our industry’s talk of “diversity and inclusion,” we need to recognize that it is not “leaders” who will make our workplaces truly welcoming of all types, but managers (and often the dreaded “middle manager”) in their day-to-day work engaging with their teams.

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