Strategic Leadership vs. Strategic Management: Untying The Gordian Knot
Robert M. Murphy, Ph.D.
Professor of Management United States Army War College
This views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of the United States War College, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, or any agency of the U.S. government.
Note from the Author This paper is a work in progress. The purpose of this paper is to elicit comments from fellow scholars and practitioners as to the soundness of the concepts put forth in this paper.
The Problem By now most of us are getting tired of the endless attempts to distinguish between the concepts of managers and leaders. Some people have given up and used the terms interchangeably. A review of the literature reveals that there is a wide array of where people and institutions stand on the issue. As an example, the US Army includes the concept of management as part of their concept of leadership (Army Regulation, 5-1), while others like Shermerhorn (1996) and Bateman and Zeithaml (1995) include it as a major function of management. Why the wide divergence? Why does the US Army use leadership as the focal point while the business world and academe use texts such as those written by Bateman and Zeithaml and Schermerhorn take a totally opposite perspective. A more important question is “What difference does it make?” as long as the organization accomplishes its goals and objectives. Through the years as a military officer, a small business entrepreneur, a consultant, and now as an academic, I am struck by the continual looseness in the use of these terms. When addressing the issues with colleagues, I often hear, "Why bother, we still need to get the job done." The answer I believe lies in the fact that there continues to be a myriad of management "How TO" books published every year, an undeniable indicator that there seems to be an unquenchable thirst to find the "golden bullet" that will solve organizational problems. The answer also lies in the apparent intrinsic feeling that the long-term health of the organization depends on both management and leadership even though many have a difficult time in separating them out conceptually.
Renowned experts in the field of management and leadership such as Bennis, Drucker, Kotter, Gardner, and Hickman take their stand and write book after book and article after article trying to clarify the distinction so others may follow a more enlightened way of moving organizations to a more viable future. Thousands of consultants sell their expertise to managers and leaders who are struggling day in and day out just to survive. Who in their right mind would not want the “Holy Grail” that will provide insights as to how to maintain some semblance of controllable order in their organization. With the changing landscape of today's organizations, there seems to be enough problems in determining whether an organization ought to be flat, modular, organic, stay in its traditional bureaucratic arrangement, or some combination of each. There is little doubt that the Information Age and the demise of the USSR have certainly opened a new era for mankind. Thus, as the world gets more complex and information gathering moves to real time, the pressure to better understand the concepts of leader and manager becomes more difficult. Sorting Through the Conceptual Jungle In my dealings with many businesspeople and academics, I hear the same chant -- enough!. They say, and I tend to agree, that there are so many books on the subject that one would think that new concepts on the subject of leadership and management are being evolved daily. I admit that I am a traditionalist and may not appreciate the subtleties that the new gurus are espousing, but when you see the plethora of supposedly new ideas hitting the street, it is understandable why managers and leaders are approaching...
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