Effective Leadership Is Managerial

Jan 12, 2022 1 Min Read
Sailing a boat
Source:Image by Marcelo Cidrack on Unsplash
The Best Leader is Also a Manager and the Best Manager is Also a Leader

Much of the literature on leadership treats leadership as being different from management, arguing that leadership is about “doing the right things” whereas management is about “doing things right”, or that leaders have long time horizons to consider whereas managers operate in the “here and now”. These distinctions are justified on the basis that leaders frame the agenda, dealing with the long-term consequences of decisions, whereas managers implement what has been framed for them by leaders and have to execute in the short term. Another way of looking at the difference is to suggest that leaders set strategy and managers work on tactics.

While these distinctions are correct, they are not the whole story. They ignore two essential elements that mean leadership and management overlap a great deal. The first is that both leaders and managers achieve their objectives through the actions of other people and their effectiveness depends on how well they can lead other people to do what is required. The second is that strategy and tactics form part of a continuum – just as leadership and management do; and that therefore to focus on what differentiates them is misleading.

Consider the roles of strategy and tactics.


Setting strategy addresses five questions:

  1. What is our objective?”
  2. “Why do we need to change what we are doing?”
  3. “What do we need to change, in order to achieve our goal(s)?”
  4. “Who needs to do what; in what sequence; and by when? How will we identify the need for; and take corrective action if it is needed”
  5. “How will we know when we have succeeded?” What is measured signals organizational priorities. As Peter Drucker said, “People don’t do what management expect, they do what management inspect!”


Tactics deal with the intermediate steps required to meet agreed strategic goals. Tactics and strategy interact continuously. Their relationship is easier to understand using sailing as a metaphor: strategy sets the destination, staffs the crew, and provides the vessel; tactics apply once the journey begins, when conditions change. The sailing boat goes off course and must make course corrections to arrive at its intended port of call. If the sailing boat faces headwinds between A to B, “tacking” will be needed for it to make headway. Like tactics, “tacking” – a form of zig-zagging into the wind - consists of short-term actions in response to changing external conditions designed to get back on course. Captains (CEOs) must know where their ultimate destination is; how far they have been driven off course by changed conditions; and what to do to get back on course.

Sailors have to appreciate and respond to changing conditions to achieve goals. It is the context that determines the strategy; and the changing context determines the timing, and appropriateness of the tactics.

Polynesian “Wayfinding”

Polynesian “Wayfinding” [1] illustrates this process, and explains how Polynesians sailed the Pacific in outrigger canoes to settle islands in the South, and Central Pacific. “Wayfinding” has two elements that are tightly integrated: setting strategy by designing a reference course; and tactics to hold that course and find land:

1) Strategy :
Before sailing, the “wayfinder” (who combines both the qualities of leader and manager), assembles a crew, assesses available resources and designs a course to reach a destination, given the capabilities of the canoe, winds, currents, and weather conditions anticipated along the way. The reference course is the most feasible way of reaching the destination. The “wayfinder” chooses the best time to sail, taking account of the reference course.

2) Tactics : Holding a course and finding land:

  • Holding a course: The “wayfinder” back sights on the land, lining up two landmarks until they disappear. Once on the open ocean, the movements of celestial bodies; the direction of the wind and clouds, the time of year; currents; and the movements of the ocean swell are observed to provide direction. Sun and moon rising and setting provide clues to direction. At night, stars rise at points on the eastern horizon and set at points in the west. Using these clues, the “wayfinder” estimates the distance and direction travelled. The starting point; departure time; estimated speed of the craft; and approximate distance to destination are known. During the voyage, winds will likely drive the canoe off course; the “wayfinder” estimates how far, and makes appropriate corrections.
  • Finding land: The “wayfinder” does not need pinpoint accuracy to find the destination because Pacific islands come in groups

Successful Leadership and Managerial Processes 

Successful leadership and managerial processes involve:

  1. Defining, communicating, and engaging support for a mission;
  2. Ensuring organizational alignment to deliver the mission by evaluating the current state and resources of the organization; and its strategic, tactical, and operational context; and determining milestones, and measures; taking corrective action, or revising the mission depending on changes in context and conditions;
  3. Engaging stakeholders effectively.

Looking at each of the above in turn:

Defining, Communicating, and Engaging Support for the Mission
A sustainable mission and vision have to be defined, protecting both the organization’s financial viability and its long-term social licence to operate. Four questions must be answered:

  1. What do the top team and owners (the governing coalition of the organization) want to do?
  2. What will society allow the organization to do?
  3. Does it make economic sense?
  4. Does the organization have the competencies required to succeed? Or can it realistically acquire them?

Effective “wayfinders” (leader-managers) answer three questions through consistent use of the mission statement at all levels of the organization: “Who does the organization serve?” “What products/services will it offer?” “How will it provide these products/services?” However, to be effective the mission statement must:

  1. Have clear focus; understood by all, so they know what markets the organization is in; and, as important, the markets it is not in.
  2. Be differentiated, and compelling.
  3. Reflect a proper understanding of the competition for market margin.
  4. Allow flexible responses to changing circumstances.
  5. Protect the organization’s long-term “social licence to operate”.

Ensuring Organizational Alignment
Effective “wayfinders” (leader-managers) translate the mission into a vision that engages heads, hearts, and hands [3], communicating what success will look and feel like. The vision provides a clear “line of sight” to the mission so that all can understand their role, responsibilities, and “what is in it for them”; with milestones, targets, and due dates; with the consequences of failure clear.

The difference between realizing the vision and it remaining an aspiration depends on ensuring five key elements are suitably aligned to achieve the mission and vision shown in Figure 1. They are: “Purpose” – what the organization exists for; “Principles” – the values it lives by; “Power” – the organizational design and power structure it adopts; “People” - who make things happen; and “Processes” – the systems and procedures that govern its operations, holding it all together.


Figure 1: The “Five P” framework

Figure 1 shows mission and vision can only be achieved if the “Five Ps” are aligned. If any one of the “Five Ps” is misaligned, the mission and vision will not be achieved. The “Five Ps” interact with each other, either reinforcing or weakening the organization’s ability to set priorities; and allocate resources appropriately. Working harmoniously together, they define and reinforce acceptable behaviour and values. Working at cross purposes, they create conflict; and undermine the values and effectiveness of the organization. The “Five Ps” cover:

1) “Purpose”: The best way for “wayfinders” to ensure that the enterprise’s “purpose” is aligned with their mission and vision is to ask and answer six questions:

  1. Who are the intended beneficiaries of our organization?
  2. What difference in their lives do we make?
  3. What value will they place on that difference?
  4. How will we make that difference?
  5. How much will it cost us to achieve that difference?
  6. What return can we expect as a result?

2) “Principles”: The values at the heart of the way the organization functions. They determine what kind of business it does and with whom it is done. The “principles” determine:

  1. What the company stands for and its culture;
  2. The “tone at the top” and the “tone in the middle;
  3. Careers of employees and how they are treated;
  4. Being a responsible citizen;
  5. Measurable and observable behavior, embedded in a policeable and policed code of conduct.

3) “Power”: The organizational design, job descriptions, roles and responsibilities and reporting relationships, as well as how people are treated. Understanding the organizational cultural contexts that exist or are desired is critical, for as Peter Drucker wrote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

4) “People”: There are three questions “wayfinders” must ask:

  1. Do we have the right number of people?
  2. Do our people have the right skills and competencies to do the job properly?
  3. Do our people have the right character to work in line with our “principles”?

5) “Processes”: The glue that binds the organization together: strategic planning, budgeting and financial reporting; approved policies and procedures, regularly inspected for lapses and loopholes and taking corrective action. Processes include all forms of internal formal and informal feedback mechanisms. Measurement and remuneration processes must align with the mission and vision. Three critical processes that present considerable difficulty are succession planning, talent management, and developing people.

Effective Stakeholder Engagement
Ensuring effective stakeholder engagement with the vision and mission needs different approaches to “external” and “internal” stakeholders, another artificial dichotomy adopted for convenience (e.g., employees are also shareholders, voters, and may have relatives who work in suppliers or customers). Again, subject to the caveat; external stakeholders’ livelihoods do not (usually) depend on accepting “wayfinder” proposals; whereas employees’ livelihoods often depend on complying.

Stakeholders can be divided into three groups:

  1. Primary stakeholders have a direct impact on the fortunes of the company.
  2. Secondary stakeholders are involved with the activities or consequences of organizational activity.
  3. Tertiary stakeholders are the “commentariat” who create the climate of opinion around the activities of the organization.

Stakeholder engagement needs a comprehensive plan: identifying and assessing stakeholders, planning communications; and engagement. All stakeholders need to know “what is in it for them” - professionally in terms of career and personally in terms of extra work and personal risk. Stakeholders wear different hats at different times, so, when engaging stakeholders, leaders must understand which hat their audience is wearing.

Communicating the organization’s mission under changing conditions and maintaining support for the vision, ensuring appropriate organizational alignment in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions, and engaging external and internal stakeholders on the journey requires the ability to lead and manage at all levels of the organization. Managers have to be able to lead their subordinates to maintain their engagement and leaders have to be able to manage the changing conditions which requires a detailed understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their organization’s business model. Being visionary is insufficient; competence in implementation is what matters.

Given the inevitable overlap between leading and managing, effective leadership is managerial.

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[1] “Wayfinding” is non-instrument navigation and weather prediction using the sun, moon and stars, sky, cloud patterns, ocean currents and swells; and maritime fauna as guides.
[2] For example, the Tuamotu Archipelago stretches 550 miles north to south and 500 miles east to west; the Society Islands stretch160 miles north to south and 310 miles east to west. Thus, while sailing to Tahiti from Hawai'i, the “wayfinder” can target a 400-mile-wide screen of islands between Manihi in the western Tuamotus, and Maupiti in the eastern Society Islands.
[3] The reason why it is important to engage all three is that the mission must be defensible rationally; but it must also excite and engage stakeholders and, in particular, employees; and it must be practical and implementable so employees know what they have to do.

Datuk John Zinkin is managing director of Zinkin Ettinger Sdn. Bhd. and author of Better Governance Across the Board. "Datuk John Zinkin is co-author of "The Principles and Practice of Effective Leadership", and author of "The Challenge of Sustainability", "Better Governance Across the Board", and "Rebuilding Trust in Banks".

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