You may be wondering why I write about management, leadership, and the apparent connection I see between the two disciplines.
Not everyone agrees that they are connected. Raise these topics in discussion often enough, and you will find someone that vehemently argues against combining them. They will likely say that you should not approach them together because they are two discrete topics that are entirely disconnected.
I disagree, which is evident to anyone following my articles or reading any of my writing.
I will admit that it is quite easy to see these things as separate in practice. It’s no great challenge to read about, observe, or be personally subject to a manager that provides no leadership.
I sincerely hope that’s not your situation…
You see, I can admit we see that behavior often enough. I am not, however, willing to let it continue without making an effort to change it.
We deserve better from our more senior colleagues, middle management, and our executive teams. And, frankly, we owe it to ourselves to give better service as managers and leaders to those we would lead.
The False Dichotomy of Management and Leadership
We tend to view our professional and social hierarchies as a pyramid, we must climb as we advance through life. A series of trials, tribulations, and requirements that we set out to master to progress towards the top: the pinnacle of achievement.
If you look at the back of a U.S. $1 bill, there is an unfinished pyramid. There are 13 steps on the main body of the pyramid, representing the original states of the union. The pyramid is incomplete, to acknowledge the promise, expectation even, of future growth. Above these steps floats the Eye of Providence or all-seeing eye. The eye floats above the work of the pyramid, monitoring and approving the undertaking below.
This is a powerful visual representation of how I see us thinking about and often practicing leadership in our businesses. We look to a small group of people, sometimes a single person, always highly placed and in a clear position of authority to provide leadership.
Everything that aligns to the steps of the pyramid is left to be managed.
Herein lies the dichotomy, the perceived division between management and leadership: that leadership can only be exhibited by those who have the authority to lead.
In these top-down leadership structures, we position those managers from the base level of our hierarchies, ascending upwards towards the peak, as stewards. They are often charged with understanding their responsibility and that of their team and then managing toward completion of those responsibilities by dividing, assigning, monitoring, and reporting on work achieved.
To an extent, this is necessary. We need to manage our teams. We fail those teams when we stop at providing management alone.
We also need to provide leadership, and that’s true at every step of our professional pyramid.
The question you may ask now is, “Why? Isn’t it enough that we have effective management and be left to do work we enjoy?”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his paper A Theory of Human Motivation. In that paper, he introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy starts at the base with our physiological needs. Among these would be food and water. The basic necessities to sustain life.
As we move up the pyramid, we seek safety from the environment and external dangers. Then comes love and belonging, which reflects our desire to be an accepted part of our chosen group. This is interesting, and for me has always been the inflection point for understanding as we consider why the pyramid is
an essential insight into human behavior.
A critical theory presented by the hierarchy of needs is that if we have not achieved the needs at the base of the pyramid, we cannot pursue the needs at the upper levels.
Let’s consider a simple example relating to the bottom three tiers of the pyramid.
Belonging equates to our acceptance into society. We seek community. That community, among other things, provides for our safety, reinforcing our desire to be accepted and remain within that group.
Now consider those that steal to eat. By violating the accepted behaviors of the community, we risk our inclusion in that group. We risk losing access to both our sense of belonging and the safety that belonging provides. And yet, given dire enough circumstances, we see that choice being made all too often.
While we could argue that the community should take care of its own, the point I want you to take away here is that when our lower-tier needs are threatened, we must satisfy them first. Even at the expense of our higher-order desires.
We need to eat.
Now, I’m going to assume you are in a position to spend your valuable time learning about management and leadership skills. Your basic needs are met, and now you pursue the final two steps in the pyramid.
At this level, we seek esteem. We want to move beyond being secure in place within a group, and begin to be recognized. We seek respect for our contribution to the group and its efforts. We need external validation.
Once we are respected for our contribution, we then pursue self-actualization. Here we are achieving internal validation of our efforts.
These last two tiers of the pyramid are where we begin to develop an affinity for leadership. The reasons for this are rooted in self-actualization.
For us to attain this final need, we must move beyond recognizing a job well done, to success at an undertaking where we are the driving factor for its completion.
We require a degree of autonomy. We need the means to see a problem, devise a solution, and then successfully implement that solution. We need to lead before we can fully realize our own need for self-actualization.
Why this topic, and why now?
That brings us back to the questions at hand. Why do I write about leadership and management? I clearly see the two as ideally intertwined, but why is that? And, why do I want to see you pursue them?
The answer to all of these questions lies in Maslow’s pyramid.
You can, of course, satisfy all of these needs without moving into a management role. I would argue that in doing so successfully, you will exhibit leadership. The example you set in doing your job well, and in supporting those around you is leadership.
Authority not required.
If you are a manager or seeking to become one, the need for you to become an intentional leader is even greater. I use the term intentional leader intentionally — pun intended. This is in opposition to the accidental leader. The leader that gives their exhibition of leadership no conscious thought or direction. They do not actively choose to lead.
This can happen most often when we accept a management role but fail to see that we must also view ourselves and position ourselves externally as a leader.
If we do not incorporate intentional leadership into our practices and behaviors, we cannot achieve self-actualization.
Consider the manager that acts on direction from above. They make no decisions of their own and apply none of their own reasoning and skill to the course their team takes. They manage the execution of their assigned responsibilities and cede autonomy to someone higher placed, someone in a prominent leadership role.
There is no room for self-actualization there. How do you achieve a belief in your own abilities, when what you are doing is merely following instructions, policies, or procedures defined by someone else?
I don’t believe you can. And I don’t think you should. You have value to add by realizing your ability to demonstrate positive leadership in the execution of your role as a manager.
Your responsibility may be for projects, not people. Your team may be small enough to count on one hand. You may have a large department you are responsible for but sit just below the executive leadership in your company.
Don’t let these things stop you. Regardless of how large or small your area of responsibility is, you always have an opportunity to lead.
That’s why I’m here writing on these topics. I want to see you reach the top of your pyramid.
I hope you enjoyed this, and if you want to see more from me, I invite you to join my group of Intentional Leaders here.
I hope you join us, and I look forward to sharing your leadership journey.
Matthew Overlund writes non-fiction and coaches professional development for new (or not so new) managers at Leadership & Vision, where he helps amazing people realize a higher potential as they evolve from getting things done to making things happen.
When he’s not writing, coaching, or generally masquerading as a code jockey, solutions architect, or product manager, Matt occasionally writes, thinks, reads, or talks about fiction — where understanding the characters on the page help him try to understand the characters in the world.