Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Do Great Leaders Make Good Managers?

Posted in People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on January 28, 2008

A friend of mine sent me a link to what looks like a gold mine of papers. One of them is titled “Do Great Leaders Make Good Managers? Conversations in Organizational Studies ” and touches on a question that I have often wondered about in working with managers and leaders in different organizations. For leaders, “Bass specifies four basic components:”

  • Charisma: developing a vision, engendering pride, respect, and trust
  • Inspiration: motivating by creating high expectations, modeling appropriate behavior, and using symbols to focus others
  • Individualized consideration: giving personal attention to followers, giving them respect, and responsibility
  • Intellectual stimulation: continuing challenging followers with new ideas and approaches

By contrast:

Robert E. Quinn et al have proposed a “Managerial Competency Framework” that takes into consideration four key models of management: Rational, Internal Process, Human Relations, and Open Systems which are viewed as having mutually interdependent, but competing values.

The author hammers home the contrast:

while it is possible for a manager/leader to wear different hats and move back and forth along the above continuum, it is important to understand that great leaders cannot lead and manage (follow) at the same time. This is because of the highly complex nature of a leader’s “inner theatre.” It may however, be relatively easy for a good manager to also be a good follower. As a matter of fact, good managers often are deemed to be good followers. They are able to quite effectively carry out the roles of director, producer, monitor, and coordinator. What is not so clear is how effectively they can concurrently discharge the other roles, i.e. mentor, facilitator, innovator, visionary, motivator, and catalyst, which are so characteristic of great leaders.

I call this problem the “reverse Peter Principle”. The Peter Principle is a famous one stating that “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. The reverse Peter Principle (you read it here first, folks), or perhaps the Al-Ubaydli Axiom, is that it is hard to get a good leader if they have to show competence as a manager first. In hierarchies employees rise up by showing their competence at each level. But because managerial jobs precede leadership ones, and because it is hard to be both a good manager and a good leader, it is unlikely that those who make it to top management would be good leadership material.

The only exception, in my belief, is the start-up. Very few people who start companies are good leaders – most are actually frustrated technicians – but a start-up is the one arena in which good leaders get the chance to be leaders without having to go through the filter of management ranks.

The rest of the article is well worth reading. For a start it tackles the unfortunate and common undervaluing of management in favour of leadership.

When our firm conducts workshops with managers, their mental association of “followers” often softens and even becomes more flattering when they come to the realization that to be a good manager, is to be a good follower. The new associations around followership tend to coalesce around words such as “implementer”, “cooperative”, “team player”, “learner” etc.

Further reading:


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