Leadership versus Management


For a long time, we have been saying that leadership is one of the top reasons that lean efforts fail. Many have begun to figure this out. Lean is more than changing a few systems and training a few people. But why does a support of improving leadership have to include a disdain for management. Management is like leadership – there is good, and there is bad. But it is different, and it is just as important as leadership.

There is a recent article in SME's Manufacturing Engineering Magazine called Leadership is Critical to Lean. This is of course true. But throughout it basically takes bad characteristics in organizations and calls it management. For example, management is described as:

  • Often doesn't listen
  • Stays detached
  • Unconcerned
  • Often insincere
  • Knows it all
  • In his/her office

Perhaps this is a description of bad management, but it is not management. Management is not as sexy as leadership. That's why writers don't like to write about it. But anyone who's ever been a manager knows there is more to it than authors think. I just happened to write about this in my latest Assembly Magazine Leading Lean column which you can read here.

Leadership is required to get things going. The quality and depth of leadership will determine how far and how fast you progress. But without management, it will be one step forward, one step backwards. Management is about accountability, daily problem solving, marshaling resources. Quality management is the backstop that sustains progress made. It's time to stop badmouthing management and instead focus on improvement management.


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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. It is clear that Leadership and Management is required and, some organizations right believe, that developing Leader-Managers is how they ought to develop their people.

    Kotter, of HBS, makes the following distinction between Leaders and Managers, which I agree with:

    Leadership is about:

    – Cope with Change
    – Cope with Complexity
    – Set a Direction
    – Aligning People
    – Motivating and Inspiring

    Management is about:

    – Planning and Budgeting
    – Organizing and Staffing
    – Controlling and Problem Solving

    I believe most people are Overmanaged and Underled. For a Lean deployment, it is critical that Leadership — in the “attribute” sense of the word, NOT in title only — is present. Believe it or not, Vision, Mobilizing People, Building Coalitions, can be done by someone with a less-than-fancy job title, but is in every sense of the word a Leader. That is how change can happen — true cultural change.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Pete. Yes, leadership is NOT a title. It is an attribute, or I prefer it as a way to act. Any person, on any given day, can take a action of leadership, an action to move the organization forward.

    Your list of comparison I believe is appropriate. I believe accountability is a major topic on high enough an order to be on the list. But as all lists of roles and skills, each item of both leadership and management can be done well, or done poorly.

  3. Sometimes I feel that the Lean community is too “nitpicky” for its own good. For instance, on the forum JSLean, people debate that TPS doesn’t work in jobshops. That “JobShopLean” is the right thing. On the forum NWLean, people active in and focused on Lean implementations cannot agree on a definition of Lean.

    Some articles make generalized statements. Some are extremely detailed. I’m by far not the most experienced person in Lean, but I have been working with Lean for over 7 years. During that time, I have met many Leaders and Managers. Many Managers do a poor job of leading. They force actions and drive a plant in the direction they view is best. Is it fair to draw a line across all managers? No. However, are all Managers Leaders? No.

    I’ve met Mr. Bodek and spoken to him on several occassions, as I’m sure Mr. Flinchbaugh has. Why not focus on the content of the article, rather than the use of adjectives and nouns, or verbs and adverbs, rather than be criticial to the smallest detail?

    I’ve “managed” and “led” in my time, both in Sales and Manufacturing. I’ve been a poor manager, good manager, poor leader and good leader in various combinations. The last 7+ years, I’ve tried to focus on being a good Leader first, good Manager second, and NEVER be poor at either role. I still make mistakes, but I’m better. I contribute that to Lean.

    My next goal is to not be so critical of the details and understand that JSLean, TPS, TQM, CPS, HOS, Boeing’s AIW and all other “systems” are really each organizations attempts to pursue Lean in their specific environment, all with the same goal.

  4. Mike, a fair criticism. I wasn’t writing this piece because there was an article on leadership but instead wanted to use it as an convenient example. The point is still that while the conversation about good leadership is alive and well, the conversation about good management is all but dead. I hope that we can resurrect the conversation about good management. I may be a contrarian, but I believe good management practices and skills are an equal contribution to long term lean success, yet I don’t see people focused on them. I have contributed to that, as one of my clients pointed out. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean I have a chapter on leadership, but not one on management. We have a course Leading Lean, but not on Management.


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