L-M Post Graphic

The Problem

“Manager” is an ignored word in the Army. I don’t claim it as a bad or taboo word necessarily; it’s just rarely a word that comes up in regard to positions and roles for Army personnel. Everyone is a “leader” and that is the end of the discussion. ADRP 6-22 defines leadership in detail, but makes no mention of management. Our Army Values follow a “LDRSHIP” acronym. We send Soldiers to “leader development” schools like Ranger or Sapper (Leader). You get the point.

There may be a belief that if you’re a manager, then you’re not a leader. Everyone wants to be a leader. From day one of our Army experience, we are conditioned to grow as leaders. This thought prevails, and rightfully so; there is nothing glamorous about the idea of management. When I think of a typical manager, I think of a department store employee in charge of four or five direct reports that doesn’t know how to inspire them, build teamwork, or effectively communicate; I envision him/her simply yelling at their workers all of the time. Further, there’s no published model of the “transformational management style” (as compared to transformational leadership).

Through recent reflection on the subject, I’ve come to believe that within our Army, management is just as prevalent and important as leadership. The Army as an organization has an aversion for the term “management,” primarily because we fail to understand what it means and the effects that it achieves. I believe that every Army service member, officer and enlisted alike (mainly oriented toward NCOs) below the rank of general officer, lies somewhere on a leader-manager continuum (shown below). Essentially, all Army service members execute varying degrees of the art of leadership and the science of management.

L-M Continuum

First, it is important to define the terms “leader” and “manager” and the distinction between the two.

Defining the Terms

The foundational work for many of these definitions come from published work, such as John Kotter’s 1990 book, “Force For Change: How Leadership Differs from Management,” or Peter Northouse’s 2016 book, “Leadership: Theory and Practice.”

Common definitions or implications of leadership include:

  • ADRP 6-22: the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization
  • Creating visions for change; producing change and movement
  • Seeking adaptive and constructive change
  • Create problems (i.e. show a need) and vision to improve the organization
  • Focused on long-term planning to achieve an end-state
  • Achieves commitment via inspiration
  • Deals in uncertainty and ambiguity
  • Army applications: Mission Command and commander’s intent, leader professional development programs, organizational growth or development, new complex operating environments shrouded in ambiguity

Common definitions or implications of management include:

  • Create and employ systems to reduce chaos in the organization; make it run more smoothly
  • Primary functions include: planning, organizing, controlling, etc.
  • Carry out the vision and accomplish tasks; fix identified organizational problems
  • Focused on short-term planning to create instrumental means to the defined end
  • Achieves commitment via involvement of personnel
  • Deals with certainty
  • Army applications: command and staff meetings, command supply discipline programs, training management systems, medical readiness

After reading these descriptions, I believe every Army “leader” can see how they have fulfilled manager responsibilities in one, if not several, duty positions. Common to both leadership and management are notions of influence, working with people, and effective goal accomplishment. Really, several functions of management are consistent with leadership. Hence, every Army member falls somewhere on the leader-manager continuum.

Management and leadership are both essential for an organization to succeed. If an organization (or individual) has strong management, but lacks leadership, they become stifling and overly-bureaucratic. However, if the organization (or individual) exhibits strong leadership, yet lacks management, the vision and passion for change is meaningless or misdirected; change may be forced just for the sake of change. Management and leadership are both needed; one is not necessarily more important than the other and they must exist in harmony.

Contributing Factors

I believe there are five factors that contribute to where you fall on this leader-manager continuum. These factors apply to any Army organization, immaterial of branch/MOS, etc.

  • Your position level in the organization: Lower-level positions such as direct supervisors are naturally going to gravitate toward the manager; staff positions err more toward managers as well. These include positions such as unit XOs, S3s, and squad leaders. Platoon leaders begin to move more toward leader. Generally, any position with “commander” in the name will gravitate the most toward leader.
  • Your own leader-manager perception and experience: Both leadership and management require varied means of education and experience to be successful. The art of leadership takes longer to enact as it is less tangible than the science of management. It requires time to be able to move toward leadership on the continuum. Further, how someone views themselves as a leader and/or manager influences how he/she approaches their position and responsibilities.
  • Follower / member experience: It is the simple distinction between Mission Command or detailed command. How a battalion commander directs his/her company commanders will differ greatly from how a squad leader directs his/her junior Soldiers. Followers’ comfort with lack of direction and ambiguity plays a role.
  • Nature of the task: Am I executing a tactical task in a training event or conducting a planning event for the next six months of my unit’s training? The nature of the task plays a role in how involved you are and what approach you take.
  • Environment: Finally, the stakes tied to your environment influence your position on the leader-manager continuum too. Consider the implications of your actions at a Combat Training Center (CTC) rotation versus at a home-station training event, or even routine tasks in garrison. You have distinct attitudes toward each one. This factor often plays hand-in-hand with nature of the task.

Officer & NCO Applications

As discussed, I believe that several key tactical-level positions are generally arrayed as shown below. Some of the above mentioned contributing factors will influence a particular position moving left or right on the continuum. In a holistic sense, I believe most NCO positions hover around where the squad leader is shown. Even CSMs tend to be manager-oriented, focused on effective systems like rating schemes, medical readiness, and so on.

L-M Continuum Complete

I do not assess that it is feasible for any officer below the general ranks to reach the far “leader” end of the continuum. No tactical-level position strays that far away from the demands of systems that require management (maintenance, property accountability, readiness, etc.).

Regarding first-line leaders (NCOs), particularly squad leaders, I argue they are the most important “leaders” in junior Soldiers’ lives. The leadership quotient of that Soldiers’ first-line supervisor heavily influences whether that Soldier chooses to stay in or leave the Army after their initial enlistment term. That squad leader is both the clearest example of leadership to that Soldier for their first years of service, and heavily guides that Soldier’s growth as a leader and manager based on experience, mentorship, promotion grooming, and so on. Though the squad leader may fall more toward the right end of the continuum based on their actions, their perceived influence and effect on their Soldiers may lead those Soldiers to view them much higher toward the leader end.

All military “leaders” must have some degree of managerial blood in them. All officers complete XO and/or staff time throughout their careers, which are manager-focused positions. Officers experience different levels of support roles (XO, staff) throughout their careers, which makes it important to maintain manager skills. As an officer, you have likely respected a battalion commander as well as a battalion S3 in your time so far. Cognitively, you respect the commander more for his/her ability to lead, but respect the S3 for his/her ability to manage systems.

So What?

First, I feel it is still appropriate to reference Army personnel as “leaders.” At a macro view, it will be nearly impossible to alter the most critical word in our Army culture. Moreover, as stated earlier, manager is not an inspiring identifier. Every position and role has a degree of leadership intrinsic to it, such as goals and methods. They also all have leadership challenges. I personally feel the greatest leadership challenge common to every position or role is training and preparing your subordinates to replace you (company commander to platoon leaders, squad leader to Soldiers).

The goal in understanding the leader-manager continuum is not to get as close as possible to the leader end. As I have addressed, every military “leadership” position requires the application of both leadership and management in varying degrees. Leadership is not actually the goal. It is being aware and understanding the need for both, and where you currently fall on the continuum based on the contributing factors. Army “leaders” who can’t manage often fail. “Managers” who can’t lead have a low ceiling for potential.

Being cognizant of this can help drive the appropriate action for the present situation and the transactions that you have as a leader-manager with your followers. It can also help guide your professional reflections, further understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a military professional, and ultimately make you more self-aware.

“Leader” Questions

  • How do you view the leader-manager distinction in the Army? What are the implications from your experiences
  • How are you developing yourself and your people as leaders AND managers?
  • Is it important for leader development programs to incorporate aspects of both?
  • Does this alter your attitude of Mission Command versus detailed command?
  • How do you challenge your peers, and even supervisors, in their roles as a leader and manager?

Further Reading

If you are interested in reading more, I recommend the below reading:

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  1. Instead of a linear model perhaps consider a concentric circle model. Remember “rings of defense”? Perhaps also consider Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model which is quadrant based. IMHO a linear model restricts the discussion..

    1. Sir, I appreciate your insight. I completely agree that there are different ways to represent this dichotomy; the Situational Leadership model is a great idea too. My current leadership professor (Dr. W.W. Burke at Columbia) even proposed a bar chart with two bars that have a zero-sum difference between leadership & management.
      I used a linear model as that is what makes most sense to me cognitively. I fully acknowledge that this representation may not best depict the content for everyone. Thank you for sharing your feedback as I think it will help other readers see that there are different ways of understanding this topic.

  2. Well written and arguably true. Flawed in its assumption that Management/Managers are at the opposite end of the continuum described above. Duties and Responsibilities of Managers are not the same as Military Leaders because of one litttle detail, life. Military Leaders may perform many tasks that manage budgets, facilities, and equipment. They may also manage Service members careers, but they Management and Manage does not describe the real function of the military. Service members must be led in a fight, not managed. The descision to put ones life on the line cannot be managed. Military Leaders must make the decision to put their most valuable resources on the line. This occurs from the president to team leader/ section leader.

    Managers don’t have to worry worry about loss of life and employee development outside of their profession. Military Leaders are held accountable for every action one of their service members takes. Alcohol, domestic violence, drugs and personal water safety are all part of their responsibility.

    Managing Service members is part of what Military Leaders do, the reason this team is shunned is because it only partially explains what they do.

    Duty First

  3. Stimulating post, I enjoyed this read. It reminds me that there are both ends of management spectrum. Micromanagement? Never a good thing. But, effective managing can lead to successful leading.

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