Balancing management and leadership

Should leaders push or pull? Light a fire under people or stoke the fire within? Use position or persuasion power? Control with rules and policies or foster commitment with values and trust?

Finding the right balance of management and leadership is a continuous challenge. Less effective managers use position power and get people doing things because they have to. More effective leaders use persuasion power to get people doing the same things because they want to.

Despite declaring otherwise, less effective managers’ actions show underlying values that treat people like children and “snoopervise” to keep them in line. Managers often hide behind rules and policies. They use position power to cover up weak people leadership skills.

Leaders’ actions show the underlying values of trust. They assume people are responsible adults. Leaders enforce rules and policies as a last resort when persuasion power has failed. Leaders continue expecting the best from people even when they see the worst from a few. They’d rather be occasionally taken advantage of than bring everyone down to rule-bound mediocrity.











Position power

Persuasion power




Possibility thinking



Doing things right

Doing the right things





Light a fire under people

Stoke the fire within people

Written communications

Verbal communications



Which is more important; management or leadership? The answer is yes. We need both. It’s about balance. As decades of Emotional Intelligence research shows, the greatest results clearly come from starting with leadership and falling back to management when needed.

Elizabeth Long Lingo, assistant professor at Worchester Polytechnic Institute and Kathleen McGinn, professor at Harvard Business School, recently reported on decades of research and consulting on the use of power. They conclude their recent Harvard Business Review article, “A New Prescription for Power,” by pointing to an age-old leadership challenge that really isn’t new at all:

“The appropriate use of power is one of the most fundamental and contentious questions of the human condition. Leaders can mobilize energy for personal gain or for collective interests; to enhance potential or destroy it. A thoughtful approach to power requires a nuanced analysis of the intended and unintended effects of influence and close attention to the means as well as the ends.”

People want decisive and strong management — when it’s called for. But how position power is used makes all the difference. As much as possible, strong team leaders gather broad input and give people a chance to have their say. Once they made a tough or unpopular decision, he or she reiterates the reasons for it and solicits the support of others.

During these challenging times, balancing information and communication is especially important. Management speaks to the head with information technologies and written communication. Leadership engages the heart with courageous conversations and verbal communications.

How’s your balance? Are you rowing in circles by pulling too hard on the management oar?