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Attaining the Right Balance
Between Leadership
and Management

Leadership Practices:
What’s Proven. What’s “Worth Less.”

Title: Attaining the Right Balance Between Leadership and Management

For decades, there have been thousands of published attempts to define the difference between leadership and management, yet the terms are still used interchangeably even though they aren’t the same.

Leadership is about effectively interacting with others—being out front, with people. Effective interactions arguably are the core of the foundation of leadership. The nature and spirit of the conversations leaders have with peers, customers, and team members define effective (or ineffective) leadership. Without effective interactions, coaching suffers, engagement dives, and the ability to influence disappears.

Management, meanwhile, often happens behind the desk. According to a 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Harvard professor John Kotter, management “is a well-known set of processes like planning, budgeting, and structuring jobs.” Leadership, he says, “is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment, and about producing useful changes.”

Unfortunately, face-to-face interactions are happening less and less frequently. Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who has written two books on this topic, Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversations, places the blame squarely on technology. In Alone Together she says, “our captious submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy.” These very same human capacities are even more important to effective leadership.

Best PracticeProven Practice: Leaders Spending More Time “Interacting”

In our Leadership Databank, we have research that further explores the differences between leadership and management with a slight twist: comparing interacting with managing. In our research, we found that leaders currently spend, on average, 41 percent of their time managing (see the figure below). If given a choice, leaders would nearly double the time they spend interacting and cut in half their time spent managing.

So, what gets in the way? Perhaps it’s due to increasing spans of control. One manager with over 20 direct reports observed that the paperwork increased while the face time he had to spread across his team nose-dived.

But when leaders spend more time interacting instead of managing, the positive results are clear. Leaders report a far better leadership experience, defined as a combination of engagement and expected retention, while HR respondents are significantly more likely to report they have higher-quality leaders in place and are more confident in their organization’s future bench strength.

Leaders’ Balance of Time—Actual, Preferred, and Company Valued

Actual, Preferred, and Company Valued

Worth Less PracticeWorth Less Practice: Exclusively Rewarding Managing Behaviors

One other reason leaders may spend less time interacting than managing is that companies overlook the importance of effective interactions. In the research included in the DDI Leadership Databank, we found that companies place far more value on managing (45 percent) than interacting (21 percent).

Indeed, senior managers set the tone for the importance of managing and differentially reward managing behaviors. For example, leaders may be compensated or even promoted for hitting production or revenue targets, but they are far less likely to see these types of rewards for reducing turnover or attaining high employee engagement scores—outcomes that are likely to accompany an environment where interacting effectively matters and leaders invest the time to do it right.

Our research also shows that organizations whose leaders spend more time interacting than managing are 50 percent more likely to be in the top one-third of our sample based on a combination of multiple financial measures.

Organizations That Value Interacting Benefit More

Organizations That Value Interacting Benefit More

As the graphic above shows, the impact becomes greater for those organizations that place more value on interacting than they do managing.

How leaders spend their time could be the most crucial ingredient in successful performance. While management tasks are still essential, we need to find ways to tilt the balance towards interactions—effective ones, at that!

Learn more about the Interaction EssentialsSM:what they are and why they matter.

DDI’s Leadership Databank shows which practices are really the best—and which ones to revise or abandon.

Talk to an Expert: Attaining the Right Balance Between Leadership and Management

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