Leadership and Management: The High-Wire Balancing ActEarlier this month, Nik Wallenda made his record-breaking walk right across roaring Niagara Falls from the U.S. to Canada. With wind blowing mist around him and the wire dripping wet, he descended and ascended the sloping cable. It was high definition, nail biting, heart pounding, suspense that left Heather and I feeling weak-kneed as we watched. And he gave a TV interview in the middle of his crossing (he was wired with a microphone and ear piece)!

While none of us will likely ever do anything this dangerously dramatic, it’s a powerful metaphor about balance. Life is full of many high wire balancing acts. A critical one for personal, team, and organization effectiveness is managing things and leading people.

Things include physical assets, processes, and systems. People include customers, external partners, and people throughout our team or organization (or “internal partners”). When dealing with things, we talk about a way of doing. In the people realm, we’re talking about a way of being.

Both management and leadership are needed to make teams and organizations successful. Trying to decide which is more important is like trying to decide whether the right or left wing is more important to an airplane’s flight. We need both!

I just came across Jesse Lyn Stoner’s blog post reporting on her dissertation research years at the University of Massachusetts (Leaders vs. Managers: The Real Answer to What’s Better). Over two years she collected data from more than 500 employees rating their bosses on how much they demonstrated leadership versus management behaviors and how those correlated to their team’s performance.

She concluded that, “managers need to lead and leaders need to manage.” She goes on to declare that, “it’s time to retire the conversation about which is better.”

Not surprisingly, Jesse’s research showed that high leadership balanced with high management lead to high team performance. What surprised her was the discovery that high leadership with low management also produced high performance. When she looked deeper she discovered that bosses who provided strong leadership vision were often supported by teams who provided the management needed to implement them.

This is explained by Zenger Folkman’s ongoing leadership research as reported in their book, The Inspiring Leader:

“Adequate leaders get everyone to do their jobs, but inspirational leaders are able to get people to rise far above that mark and achieve more … There is obviously something about a leader’s encouraging innovation that has an extremely powerful impact on people. People are jazzed by the opportunity to participate in new and exciting activities.”

We need both leadership and management for high-performance on the team and organizational high wire. And when working with supervisors, managers, and executives with strong leadership skills, team/organizational members can step up to provide counterbalancing management that takes everyone across the roaring maelstrom.

Further Reading: