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Leadership Without Management: Pipe Dream or Viable Model?

By Loren Miner, COO, and Nicole Cox, CRO
With Tom Brennan, Senior Writer

Plenty has been written about the differences between leadership and management, and many professionals have worked hard to ensure their style incorporates the best of both. But if you provide the right leadership, is it possible to run a “managementless” organization?

Well, at Decision Toolbox (DT) we’re doing it. Notice we didn’t say “we’ve done it;” it’s less a noun and more a verb, a living, ever-changing model. But we’d like to share a few of the things we’ve learned, and also to invite you to share your ideas (below). In Part 1 of this blog series we’ll look at advantages and disadvantages, and in later parts we’ll explore what it looks like, some keys for making it work, and developing future leaders in this model.

We want to be clear right off: we’re not saying leadership is good and management is bad. Both are valuable and they often are complementary. Many people with the title “Manager” are, in fact, great leaders. Management may be essential in some organizations, depending on the size and the function.

Leadership: Change and Facilitation

Let’s shave some fuzziness off the terms. The world doesn’t need yet another list of the differences between leadership and management, but there are two major differences that influence our model. First, management is focused on stability while leadership is focused on change. Like everything else we’ll write about here, this is not a black and white distinction. But management is about promoting consistency in Key Performance Indicators, while leadership is about asking, “What can we do differently? Where is the next new opportunity?”

Second, management is about control while leadership is about facilitation. This is a traditional notion of management, involving giving orders, assigning tasks, cutting costs, etc.; this is the side of management that often gets the dreaded prefix “micro.” In contrast, leadership involves ensuring people have the tools and resources they need to pursue a vision.

Why, Yes, We ARE Crazy

We’d like to acknowledge those of you who are thinking, “Are you crazy?” Here’s why we ARE crazy . . . about this approach! One reason is that, while stability is a good thing, the most successful companies today are highly adaptable. Your financial profile should be stable, but your people should be masters of change, and leadership paves the way for change. Harvard Professor John Kotter says that “over-managed and under-led organizations . . . are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.”1

Another reason specific to DT is that we are 100% virtual. Every member of the DT team works from a home office. You simply have to give up a degree of control when people work remotely. If a member of our leadership team were a micromanager, her head would explode. Instead, the leadership approach helps us give employees the tools and the vision, and then trust that the work will get done.

Servant Leadership and Job Satisfaction

And it does. It’s a big leap of faith, the kind required by servant leadership. As DT’s Director of Quality blogged recently, you have to hire passionate people who are self-motivated to excel. But one of the most important factors in job satisfaction is the ability to provide value, and this approach empowers people to do just that. Empowered people who know they are adding value will perform better and stay longer. Servant leadership requires that you shift your focus away from P&Ls and metrics and direct it instead to people and values. We’ve found that profitability follows, but there are also strong intangible rewards to helping people achieve job satisfaction.

Are there disadvantages? Of course. The larger the business, the more difficult it may be — but not impossible. Some industries are better suited to it than others.  It requires that your people have high EQs; if Randy Recruiter has a hard time admitting mistakes, this model may not be a good fit for Randy. And there are people who truly prefer that others give them direction.

For us the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. How about you? Next up: what the leadership-without-management model looks like in practice.

Source: 1.

To learn more about Decision Toolbox, send us an email – we’d love to hear from you!

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3 Responses to “Leadership Without Management: Pipe Dream or Viable Model?”

  1. September 04, 2013 at 5:01 am, Picture Me Managementless | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] Part 1 of this blog series we explained why we at Decision Toolbox are committed to running a […]


  2. September 19, 2013 at 5:15 am, Accountability and Servant Leadership | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] far we made a case for running an organization using leadership but not management, and we described what this looks like in practice, using some examples from Decision Toolbox (DT). […]


  3. October 03, 2013 at 5:18 am, Leaders’ Responsibilities in a Management-less Model | Blog | Decision Toolbox said:

    […] the first three parts of this series (in case you missed them:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) we laid out a general blueprint for running an organization using leadership but […]


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