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Why you have to manage as well as lead


On the HBR.org Blog Network, Robert I. Sutton insists that true leaders are also managers, and any belief to the contrary can have a negative effect on the way those in leadership positions do their job.

Despite this, Sutton broadly agrees with this distinction between managing and leading offered by leadership expert Warren Bennis in his book Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader:

"There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial… Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing."

While Sutton concedes this is "more or less correct" and "useful to some degree", he points out that such definitions have led some leaders to view their role as "just coming up with big and vague ideas".

These leaders, he says, "treat implementing [their ideas], or even engaging in conversation and planning about the details of them, as mere 'management' work".

Sutton adds: "Worse still, this distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve."

These "big picture only" leaders often make decisions without due consideration of realistic constraints and limitations of time and finance, and often push forward with plans in the face of mounting evidence that they are misguided.


Sutton believes the most effective leaders combine leadership and management. "At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management," he says.

"Therefore," he concludes, "harking back to the Bennis theorem… let me propose a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done."

True Leaders Are Also Managers
Robert I. Sutton