Management is not controlling

December 4, 2014

I found an interesting article on Harvard Business ( ) about the differences between leadership and management – the “controlling” word caught my eye.  The author set out 3 specific differences:

Managers count value but leaders create value;

Leaders have circles of influence and managers have circles of power;

Leaders lead people but managers manage work.

These points may make good sense at first read but is was the commentary used to describe the last point that really makes me uncomfortable.  Here is the commentary:

Management consists of controlling a group or a set of entities to accomplish a goal. Leadership refers to an individual’s ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward organizational success. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers, not power and control.


Controlling management has the wrong assumptions

On first read this might sound okay.  But consider the following points.

When managers take a controlling approach:

  • they assume they know better about the work than the workforce (Wrong assumption – the workforce always will have great ideas to make the business work better);
  • they tell the workforce what to do, expecting they will fully comply (Wrong assumption – do you like being told what to do?);
  • they assume everybody will act rationally, as in a true control system, (Wrong assumption – employees respond emotionally to instructions, requests, etc and will be influenced as such).

Successful managers do the following:

In my experience the most successful managers I have met display the following characteristics – the opposite of the above assumptions:

  • they assume the workforce know how the work is done and actively encourage their team to work on improving the work;
  • they ask their workforce for ideas rather than tell them what to do;
  • when the manager decides not to take an idea forward they tell the workforce why;
  • they recognise the impact of the emotional aspects of the working environment. 

In fact these assumptions look like the descriptions of the leadership role – inspiring people to contribute.  So perhaps we would all like to be inspired rather than controlled.  How about you?