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:
- “What is our objective?”
- “Why do we need to change what we are doing?”
- “What do we need to change, in order to achieve our goal(s)?”
- “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”
- “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”  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:
- Defining, communicating, and engaging support for a mission;
- 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;
- 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:
- What do the top team and owners (the governing coalition of the organization) want to do?
- What will society allow the organization to do?
- Does it make economic sense?
- 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:
- Have clear focus; understood by all, so they know what markets the organization is in; and, as important, the markets it is not in.
- Be differentiated, and compelling.
- Reflect a proper understanding of the competition for market margin.
- Allow flexible responses to changing circumstances.
- 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 , 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.