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Leadership vs. Management. How we can all be leaders.

I recently finished a leadership course at NYU and wrote on the topic of management vs. leadership. Can anyone be a leader or are they a special breed of people?

While we often see leaders in media as charismatic visionaries or people with exceptional oratory talents who can inspire others, there are many people in organizations who do not have these character traits but can still be leaders.

I view leadership as an ability to create and manage key systems. If individuals at any level in the organization can identify, understand and enhance these systems, they can lead an organization forward to achieve its purpose and create a culture of leadership throughout the organization.

Below is the full paper.

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Management differing from leadership is an argument made by many business experts, including John Kotter (2008), who distinguishes the two by describing management as “coping with complexity” (p. 7) and leadership as “coping with change” (p. 7). Kotter makes a strong case, however this paper favors the position that leadership is a management strategy that can be practiced by any individual, and not a capacity complimentary to management as Kotter would like us to believe.

This paper contends that any individual can lead by coping with the complexity of human emotion – generalized as dealing with change by Kotter – and by managing other systems. It presents a framework in which leadership is the management of enabling organizational systems and management of the system of emotion in others, and within oneself. Any manager can lead if and only when one has learned the craft of systems management pertinent to the organization or within one’s field, and has learned how to manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others – a complex system not even fully understood by today’s best psychologists and scientists, yet a system nevertheless. Leadership is effective management of these three systems.

Leaders Manage Enabling Organizational Systems

James O’Toole (2008) describes the role of enabling systems in companies with high leadership quotients (LQ). High LQ companies institutionalize leadership capacities and focus on only two or three out of twelve key systems identified.  The following four examples of enabling systems highlight ways leadership can be institutionalized in companies and describes processes that would likely be considered management practices by Kotter and not leadership.

In the first system of goal setting and planning, O’Toole argues that individuals can challenge and stretch followers through “disciplined organizational process” (p. 57). Kotter however describes similar responsibilities of establishing “detailed steps for achieving goals and targets” (p. 7), as a management responsibility.

A risk management system is a second “formal process” (p. 58) that makes certain everyone understands the size and likelihood of the key risks facing the business. This system can be equated to Kotter’s “systems to monitor implementation” (p. 7), also a capacity of managers from his point of view.

A third system highlighted is communication. It is interesting to note that O’Toole describes communication as a system and not an activity. In this system, central to companies with high LQ, leaders at all levels, including the CEO and managers at the operating level, spend significant time communicating the big picture, as well as providing access to information needed for others to do their work. The system of repeatedly communicating vision, strategy, mission and purpose need not just be communicated by “Tops” (Sales, 2008, p. 181). This task can be performed and “viewed as the responsibility of every leader at any level” (p. 58) according to O’Toole, which we can infer, includes managers described as “Middles” (p. 182) by Michael Sales.

Companies with high LQ could also excel at recruiting, a fourth system managed by managers at all levels, through “explicitly defined selection criteria” (p. 58) that are closely related to the organization’s goals. What O’Toole describes as a task performed by leaders, Kotter describes again as something that appears to be performed by managers in “staffing the jobs with qualified individuals and communicating the plan to those people” (p. 7).

The lines between leadership and management blur between O’Toole and Kotter, yet they would both likely argue that management of enabling organizational systems is a requirement of both leaders and managers.

Leaders Manage Emotional Systems of Others

Daniel Goldman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee (2008) argue that the core of leadership lies in leaders’ abilities to manage their own and others’ emotional responses to each situation.  Leadership according to the authors works through primal emotions; and the emotional task of the leader is “both the original and the most important act of leadership” (p. 17).  Throughout history and across cultures, “the leader acts as the group’s emotional guide” (p. 18).

The authors highlight our second system that requires management. The open-loop limbic system within the brain is our emotional system. Managers who lead a group “manage meaning” (p. 20) for it and offer a way to interpret, and therefore react emotionally to, a given situation. These fleeting and intense emotions, systematically managed – and often what we consider to be inspiration or a sense of purpose – do in fact impact results according to their research. Their analyses suggest that the climate or mood of an organization, a product of collective emotions, can account for 20 to 30 percent of business performance.

Tops’ emotions are watched more carefully by members of an organization who take cues from the emotional reactions of these managers that are responsible for overall strategic responsibility of a system. “A leader’s mild anxiety can act as a signal that something needs attention” (Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A., 2008, p. 21); a sober mood can help when considering a risky situation. While enthusiasm can improve performance, management of extreme optimism is also an emotion a leader manages as too much optimism can lead to ignoring dangers.

Kouzes and Posner (2008) support Goldman, Boyatzis and McKee’s thesis, and present common practices as a model to emotionally guide others toward peak achievements. Leaders manage the system of emotion in others by modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart.

However, this model is not enough to manage the complex system of emotion within an organization and to control the mood. A manager who leads, or we can argue influences, by managing the emotional system of others, can only do so by first understanding and learning to manage one’s own emotional system. We next explore, in the third part of our framework, guidelines formed by George and Colins (2008) for an individual to effectively manage the emotional system within.

Leaders Manage the Emotional System Within

“Leadership begins and ends with authenticity” (p. 87), according to Bill George (2008). Leaders manage their own emotional system by remaining authentic and true to themselves. Like Kouzes and Posner, George also presents a model, but here we see an author guiding the individual in managing one’s own emotional system, through five practices. We explore this framework with George’s and Jim Collin’s research.

Leaders first understand their purpose by recognizing their own passions and underlying motivations; and finding the environment that offers a fit between the organization’s purpose and their own. Any reader can conclude that this practice and the following four, can be adhered to by any individual or manager in an organization.

Leaders secondly practice solid values, especially integrity, in order to gain trust. They tell the whole truth, as painful as it may be.

Thirdly, they lead with the heart. Leaders are open and willing to share themselves fully with others, and genuinely care about the well being of others.

Fourth, they establish close and enduring relationships to aid in building trust and commitment.

Lastly, they demonstrate self-discipline and consistently demonstrate their values through their actions.

Collins’ (2008) traits of a Level 5 leader who leads with “a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will” (p. 100) further demonstrates how various parts of the complex emotional system can be managed. Humility, while difficult for many to have, is a quality that can be developed. Research by Morris, Brotheridge, & Urbanski suggests that humility is multi-dimensional and includes self-understanding and awareness, openness, and perspective taking.  A simple website search for ‘how to be humble’ offers various methods for a person to develop this quality.

By developing and practicing these qualities consistently, one manages the emotional system within and can then effectively manage the emotional system of others and the organizational systems.


We can frame the various traits, processes and skills needed for individuals to lead effectively in the following framework of leadership. One can lead by understanding and effectively managing three key systems. Enabling organizational systems, emotional systems of others, and the emotional system within can institutionalize leadership in any organization at any level.

Future leaders need not only manage organizational systems and emotional systems, but they must also understand how these systems all interact with one another and the role they play in systems outside the organization. Recent failures in private sector industries such as banking and real estate, as well as political conflict and environmental disasters, can be attributed, through this framework, to a failure in systems thinking.

Further readings and education of leadership in systems management would be a good next step for a reader interested in this framework. The books in Appendix A. may serve as useful starting points in helping managers understand systems thinking and dynamics.


Collins, J. (2008). Level 5 Leadership, The triumph of humility and fierce resolve. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 99-114). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

George, B. (2008). Leadership is authenticity, not style. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 87-98). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2008). Primal leadership: the hidden power of emotional intelligence. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 16-25). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kotter, J. (2008). What leaders really do. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 5-15). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2008). The five practices of exemplary leadership. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 26-34). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Morris, J. A., Brotheridge, C. M., & Urbanski, J. C. (2008). Bringing humility to leadership: antecedents and consequences of leader humility. Human relations, 58, 1323-1350.

O’Toole, J. (2008). When leadership is an organizational trait. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 50-60). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Sales, M. J. (2008). Leadership and the power of position: understanding structural dynamics in everyday organizational lIfe. In J. Gallos (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 180-198). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Appendix A.

Systems Thinking, Third Edition: Managing Chaos and Complexity: A Platform for Designing Business Architecture – Gharajedaghi J.

An Introduction to General Systems Thinking – Weinberg G.

Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems – Boardman J., Sauser B.,

Systems Thinking for Curious Managers: With 40 New Management f-Laws, Ackoff R., Addison H., Gharajedaghi J.


12 Responses

  1. Dasha says:

    You can add up this:- Effective leadership is ptuitng first things first.प्रभावी नेत्रित्व महत्त्वपूर्ण चीजों को पहले रखना होता है.Without initiative, leaders are simply workers in leadership positions. बिना पहल के , लीडर महज़ एक श्रमिक है जो लीडर बन कर बैठा हुआ है.

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  3. Jeffrey Manu says:

    Hi. Here are some extra thoughts, I believe a leader is a greT manager of time, energy, resources and emotions. Leadership can be taught. Like there are no born boxers or footballers, there are no born leaders. Just because someone is elected does not make them a good leader.
    Thanks for this piece.

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