Is management the same as leadership?

In our Leadership and Technology course, we had a lively discussion over what separates leadership from management. From this discussion, several distinguishable characteristics of management and leadership emerged.

Management models are mostly applied to complicated systems – systems that are mechanical and functional in nature, characterized by goal-oriented approaches and input/output flows.  These systems are efficiency-oriented and consider its components reducible to parts (Kowch, 2013 in press, p. 4-5). This system separates people from the process because of their epistemology.  In management, organizational problems are approached with solutions that are proven effective. Focusing on linear thinking, management models focus on the micro level of an organization (Kowch, 2013 in press).


In contrast, leadership models are representative of complex systems – systems that apply a holistic approach. Using the idea of functioning as an ecosystem, complex systems are cyclical and grow-minded (Kowch, 2013 in press, p. 4-5).  Characterized by the use of feedback loops and growth-minded thinking, there is no separation of people from processes.


When reading the above descriptions, it is clear that ideally, we would rather lead than manage. However, this is not as simple as it seems.  In our current epistemology, we have “known” the system of management.  We are comfortable with management because this is what we have experienced. Further, in this model, processes are predictable. In fact, in some aspects, we cannot survive without managers because things get done – we know this because the goal is achieved.  Consequently, some people want a manager because this is what we are a product of.

However, in our ever-changing and evolving world, is management what we need to progress? With the interconnectivity of people, places, and information, the concept of separating people from the process seems unrealistic. Even if we try to shelter people from understanding the process, there are different ways to gain that expertise.  Consequently, as our society evolves where networking and connectivity increases, we move away from linear design and structural functionalism. We do, in fact, become an ecosystem – tightly interconnected and reliant on each other’s strengths and talents. This shift in focus moves from the micro to the meso/macro level.

How is innovation and tension approach in a complex system?

As tension is introduced from innovation and the unknown, this interconnectivity acts as the support network to navigate through and grow, either through success or failure.  Our network and connectivity then becomes stronger because of this increased capacity. Let’s look at the diagram below. Because people are connected, if one connection is “lost” or missing, there are other supports to help fill that void:


In its most simplistic form, let’s use the airline industry as an example of a primitive networking system where the interconnectivity can acts as a support.  Pilot A flies his route from Chicago to New York every day.  Pilot B flies from New York to London.  However, on day “x”, pilot B has mechanical troubles in New York and cannot be cleared for take off.  When pilot A arrives in New York, he discovers his return flight to Chicago is not full, so he gives his larger aircraft to pilot B so the passengers can get to London.  Pilot A then uses a smaller plane to complete his return route. Here, all flights are successfully completed, perhaps a bit late.  However, because of their connectivity with each other and the ability to problem solve, the airline grows stronger as their success rate increases. Here is a map of Air Canada’s flight path to help you visually see the similarities.  While not every line is completely interconnected, it is a working example that can be used to strengthen the argument for the potential implications of leadership in complex systems.


(Air Review, 2013)

As we grow as organizations, which model would you like to see evolve?


Air Review (2013, July 6). Air Canada reviews: Air Canada routes and schedules. Retrieved from:

Kowch, E. (2013 in press). Whither thee, Educational Technology? A Suggestion to extend educational technology epistemology for emerging leaders. Tech Trends Special Edition (Fall, 2013).



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