Home > Leadership, Press Cuttings > Musing on knowledge workers, leaders and managers

Musing on knowledge workers, leaders and managers

I was reading a blog post the other day where someone was trotting out the differences between a manager and a leader and expounding the theory that managers are no longer needed in business as the knowledge workers require leadership not management.

OK, I understand the argument and, to some degree, am happy to support it. For a start I’ve been doing it for more years than I can remember so why would I think otherwise?

My issue with this kind of evangelical stuff is that too often those who are picking up on the message are not getting the full picture, won’t really understand what they need to do about it and it will end up, for them and those that they inflict it on, as another failed initiative; just one more management fad.

Let me be blunt here: Every business needs to have someone in a management role. Sure, it is going to involve a lot of boring stuff; admin type things that the swashbuckling leader, swinging from the chandelier with a knife gripped between their teeth would look on with scorn, but if you don’t have some form of management, then that leader will soon end up as one famous leader did, caught by a river, surrounded by the opposition and getting massacred.

Sir Richard Branson is often held up as a leadership role model, and quite rightly. His group of companies has grown in my lifetime and I have watched with admiration some of the audacious deals that they have pulled off as the man at the top has kept popping up in the headlines in a series of adventures. Not all of the latter have come off of course, but he has entered our hearts as an example of that swashbuckling leadership style I refer to above.

How has he built such a successful brand? It isn’t just about leadership; it’s about being able to blend that entrepreneurial spirit and the visionary leadership with management skills that can sort out the detail of the deals. The devil is in the detail is a very true saying and you need some completer finishers on the team to nail all of that stuff down. Read Sir Richard’s books or any of those written about him, and you’ll see that he works with the right people on all of these deals, buying in expertise when and where he needs it to augment his own people.

If we are talking in hierarchical terms then I would rather see a good leader at the head of a company than a good manager. I think that a good leader will take an organisation to where it needs to go, seeing the opportunities, setting the agenda and the direction and inspiring their people to sign up to the dream. But it will be the managers who ensure that all of the things that need to happen do happen, when and where they need to.

If you follow these thoughts on a regular basis you will be aware that I am passionate about developing leadership. I firmly believe that business leaders will be the ones to take us out of recession, not the politicians. The latter can only recycle money; business can create wealth.

I am even more passionate about people. It is people that make organisations work, and the organisations that treat their people fairly will prevail over those that don’t. Yes, let’s develop the knowledge worker concept, but in doing so let us also recognise that amongst those knowledge workers are the managers. Lose sight of that and you will lose.

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