"A journey in the realm of systems"

Home Page

The Way
(Site Navigation


Leadership and Management
A Structural Perspective

The Way of Systems

Leadership & Management

A Structural Perspective

The following is an elaboration of an idea which has been kicking around for quite some time and I just wanted to get it roughed out so I didn't lose it. The idea has to do with a perception that management is essential a push operation while leadership is a pull operation. As I try to think about where the concept originated it seems to be something which emerged from DePree (1989). Although there were many things things about this work which were memorable there were two particular ones that have stuck very profoundly.

  • The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last responsibility is to say, "thank you." In between the leader should be a servant.

  • One should think of a leader as a bus driver. If you don't take people where they want to go they get off the bus.

As I thought about the traditional definition of management as, planning, organizing, directing, and controlling, in conjunction with hierarchical structure it seemed there was a characteristic result associated with the structure I had not previously considered or seen described.

Organizations generally tend to pursue objectives of one type or another. From this I decided to view the structure rotated 90 degrees with a management implication.

Now this part may be a bit difficult but imagine this structure made out of toothpicks and gumdrops. And as the management emphasis is applied the structure has a natural tendency to fan out.

As a result of this fan out the organization will have a tendency to be less focused on its objective(s) and less effective in achieving them. As a result of this management effort is not simply applied from the perspective previously indicated. Management effort is applied in from numerous perspectives simply attempting to keep the organization focused on the objective. This management effort is essentially to compensate for the natural fan out tendency of the structure.

It should be readily apparent that all compensating effort is essentially added overhead to the organizational operation. Wouldn't it be nice if one didn't have to expend all this additional effort to keep the organization focused on its objective(s).

Think about this structure again made out of toothpicks and gumdrops consider what happens when you turn it around and pull on it, rather than push on it. The natural tendency is for the structure to attempt to come into alignment focused on the direction of the leadership.

Now it would appear that I have lead you down a path to consider leadership and management as mutually exclusive alternatives.

Yet, consider the possibility if the paradigm were changed to consider the pursuit of leadership and management in an integrated fashion.

This might be doable if we were to alter the perception of the role of management. If management were a supportive function rather than a directive function the diagram might look somewhat like the following. In this context is seems that management would be a service providing function offering training, development, coaching, mentoring, and the like, rather than performing the traditional planning, organizing, directing and controlling functions.

Just a set of thoughts I didn't want to lose. Your comments are most welcome.

theWay of Systems * Feedback * Musings
Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger