I recently came across an old article from 1990 by John Kotter, written when he was a Harvard Business School professor. He makes some intriguing distinctions between management and leadership, roles he considered distinct in business.

Management, Kotter contends, is about coping with complexity. Good managers bring order and consistency to large, complex situations such as big business. Key activities of managers include planning and budgeting, establishing the detailed procedures that will allow for success, and making resource allocations to effectively carry out plans. Included in the planning is the creation of organizational structure and making staffing decisions that support that structure. Management then shifts primarily to problem-solving, overcoming the inevitable obstacles that pop up during execution of the plan.

Leadership is instead primarily concerned about coping with change. Kotter saw the leadership role becoming increasingly more important as the pace of change increased. Coping with change begins by setting a direction, which he equated with long-term vision and setting strategy. The leader then achieved alignment by clearly communicating vision and championing commitment to its achievement. Along the way the leader is responsible for motivating and inspiring people to keep working towards the vision, overcoming obstacles along the way.

Obviously, much thinking and refinement regarding the differences between management and leadership has been done in the last thirty years. However, Kotter helped set the tone for the discussion and his view is worth consideration.

-Eric Smith