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Achieving the Leader/Manager Balance

June 29 2020 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, Leadership Development and Institutional Strengthening Specialist

What exactly is the distinction between leadership and management? offers the following comparative definitions – “Leadership is setting a new direction or vision for a group that they follow — i.e., a leader is the spearhead for that new direction. On the other hand, management controls or directs people/resources in a group according to principles or values that have already been established.”[i]

Put another way, management is concerned with the efficiency and effectiveness of existing systems, sometimes using a more directive style and role authority in the process. On the other hand, leadership is concerned with identifying and bringing into existence new systems, products, services etc., and influencing and enabling others in the process.

In reality, the roles of leaders and managers are not separated. Undertaking leadership and managerial responsibilities is a juggling act, and a polarity that has to be balanced to achieve both operational efficiency and effectiveness and change that organisations require. If the truth is told, managerial demands often end up being the winner in what often seems to be the battle between these roles, as the urgent and now often takes precedence over future-focused strategic issues.

So how can a leader/manager adequately balance both roles? There is no magic bullet, however, here are a few suggestions/considerations:

  • Set specific targets that relate to strategic leadership issues. As the old adage goes, “What gets measured, gets done.” Having leadership-related outputs integrated into the performance management system is one way, not only to provide goal direction, but to measure progress. If the organisation does not have a robust performance management system, there is no reason why an individual leader cannot still develop their own work plan, that includes a focus on leadership issues, and not only on managerial tasks;
  • Determine what is truly important. Here is another relevant adage, “Nobody is too busy; it’s just a matter of priorities.” If strategic leadership issues are always being placed on the back burner of your agenda, the question that must be confronted is whether these issues are considered truly important. If they are important, then what must follow is a re-alignment of priorities.
  • Make the time. A common ability among effective leaders is to manage their time wisely. This requires focused attention on analysing how one’s time is truly spent; how much time is wasted in badly-managed meetings, not delegating effectively, not saying no when this is needed etc.? Then a determination has to be made on deliberately making time for roles and tasks identified at #2.                                              

As you reflect on this blog, you are invited to share:

  • What are some of the specific challenges that you face in balancing your roles as a leader/manager?
  • What strategies have you, or others around you, used to create the balance between leadership and managerial roles?


Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2018.