Leader or Manager – False Dilemma

Rogerio Bonatto Creative Thinking, Organisational Development, Project Management Leave a Comment

Leader or Manager – False Dilemma


“A false dilemma occurs when an argument offers two options and ignores, either purposefully or out of ignorance, other alternatives.”

Presenting statements into “black and white” terms is a common occurrence of this logical fallacy. It is so spread that a Google search for “leader or manager” returned about 237,000 results.

The Facts

The dichotomy encourages the readers to choose between two options as they were mutually exclusive. In many cases, authors even induce the readers to believe that being a leader is right, being a manager is wrong.

It is interesting to notice that a formal MBA course may include many “Management” papers (Information Technology Management, Operations Management, Human Resources Management, Marketing Management, Project Management, Accounting Management, Change Management, Procurement Management…) and, in the same course, a Leadership paper presenting “management” as an outdated (or wrong) approach, to be replaced by more effective “leadership” concepts. This idea is usually supported by a complete set of peer-reviewed articles and worldwide accepted bibliography.

Why the issue deserves a second look?

Leadership supposes the existence of well-defined objectives. Long-term and widely accepted objectives are the most suitable ones.

In such case, leaders are the ones that inspire and guide other people to cooperate, aiming to achieve the objectives.

Among the instruments that can support or improve the intention to collaborate, we can comment: leadership, management skills, authority and power.

Pure Leadership

There is plenty of information related to leadership, but in this context, it is important to remember that:

  • Leadership is highly dependent on trust, that requires a long time to be earned, and the existence of successful past examples.
  • Charisma, good communication and a confident behaviour help a lot.
  • The leader should be known and be used to deal with antagonism and resistance to change.

Leadership & Management skills

We can observe a strong relationship between leadership and management in several aspects:

  • For sure leadership can be considered a talent, but it can be learned, trained or practised similarly to other management skills.
  • A leader should be able to identify objectives, devise strategies, establish a plan of action.
  • In the implementation phase, leaders should know how to deal with cross-functional teams, manage time, evaluate risks, costs, identify and apply resources, make good use of people abilities.
  • Having the knowledge about the objectives and the issue under discussion is also essential. We cannot imagine a leader that does not know the objectives he is trying to reach and how to get there.

Example: A CIO resigned and the CFO assumed as the acting CIO. Even having strong leadership talent, we cannot expect this guy to be immediately considered a leader by the ICT people due to the lack of effective management skills in the area.

Leadership & Authority

It really helps if the leader has a good degree of authority, such as:

  • The right to make decisions;
  • A hierarchical superiority over the project team;
  • An official designation as the team leader.

Example: A recently hired but unknown CEO is dependent on his authority in order to get the expected results. It will take a long time for him be considered a leader by the community of stakeholders.

Leadership & Power

It is advantageous when the leader has enough Power to:

  • Support his formal authority;
  • Make his decisions to be accepted;
  • Influence and convince high-level stakeholders;
  • Get the resources needed to implement solutions.

Effective communication is not enough to create a successful and long-lasting leader. The outcomes of his behaviour should be measurable, and power will help the results to arise in a timely manner.

Additional comments

One way to confirm this “challenging” approach to the theory of leadership is to make a brief search about the most celebrated leaders worldwide and verify how their success was backed-up by management skills, authority and power.

Even a quick check in a LinkedIn profile can show hard skills endorsements (as project management) that go at the same level with soft skills (like team leadership), with no conflict at all.

Creative thinking (and critical thinking) means that we are expected to reflect about the validity of theoretical propositions, even when they are boxed by the models and frameworks written in books and taught in prominent business schools.


Differently from what is commonly presented, Management is not in opposition to Leadership. Management skills, Authority and Power support the leader to motivate and inspire people, aiming to conquer the common goals, to reach the shared targets.

I’ve recently published an article regarding Bottom-up Leadership. Check here.

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