The Explainer: Leaders and Managers

That was Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in that splendid film, “Invictus.” In this election year, we’ve been focusing on various aspects of the presidency from the perspective of our political institutions. But most of you watching tonight aren’t in government, you’re in private life: and so tonight I thought I’d pose a question from a nongovernmental perspective. What are you looking for in a president? A leader or a manager, or both?

I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.




Tonight’s episode takes a cue from a column I wrote recently titled “Leaders and Managers.” As our country divides on the question of whom to elect, it seems to me the perceived pros and cons for the candidates reflects our individual biases for leaders or managers.

The leading candidate has put himself forward as a servant-leader, someone who can be trusted to make the right choices and lead by example.

His main rival has put himself forward as a hard-working manager, who has the practical experience required to keep things smoothly in hand.

Other candidates also put themselves forward as loyal, trustworthy managers who have the skills required to continue the policies of the present administration.

While others put themselves forward as visionary leaders who can break apart institutions if required, to remold and reenergize them.

As it is, most of the major candidates for the presidency are legislators and this brings with it its own problems as Manuel L. Quezon admitted in his autobiography, “The Good Fight.”

In the chapter on “Executive Problems” Quezon confessed that becoming a chief executive requires adjustments from someone used to legislative work; the transition depends on finding a team the former legislator can work with as he settles in the job.

But these realities are often ignored by we, the people, because public opinion as this Free Press editorial cartoon pointed out in the 1960s, is more often than not focused on what we’re against, than what we’re actually for. We know what we don’t like but rarely express what we want.

Public opinion tells us that like this picture, most of the public finds the image of our officials at present to be askew. Fairly or not, our perceptions of the incumbent will influence our choices for her successor.

In 1935 Quezon in the center of this photo was elected in part because he fostered the image of taking a firm hand in public administration and being a good judge of character. Vice-President Osmena, in profile to your left, was viewed as a cooperative conciliator, a Yin and Yang team.

In 1946 the same dynamics were manifested in Roxas, at the foot of the table facing you, and Quirino, at the head of the table. Quezon and Roxas indicated that the public viewed leadership as the foremost quality a president needed, but they were also known for freely delegating authority to their subordinates, and so knew how to manage people. Osmena and Quirino, however, were more-detail oriented and managerial in orientation.

President Magsaysay was a fiery and demanding leader and quite impatient with managerial details. He was closer to Quezon in his restlessness and impatience with office work.

In contrast, President Garcia, according to Carlos P. Romulo, was a manager’s manager. If he were alive today he’d glory in Gantt Charts. He would call R-omulo in Washington and systematically go through a preprepared agenda point by point in contrast to Magsaysay’s folksy, informal style.

Macapagal was another manager’s manager, working long hours and frightening his doctors because of his punishing work schedule. But he was less accomplished in delegating authority or getting people on the same page, the leadership aspect of his job.

President Marcos was for many of us alive today, the personification of the combined leader-manager, though his chief limitation was, he did not foster a succession: subordinates were never permitted or encouraged to rise too high because as dictator, no potential successor could arise from outside the Marcos family.

President Aquino became a study in contrasts as she approached her job from the perspective of a transformative leader: the managerial side of her job was less developed and eventually, the public would seek a successor more of a manager than she was.

Fidel V. Ramos was an accomplished manager as military top brass tend to be, but consciously tried to complement that aspect of his job with signs of leadership.

Joseph Estrada was elected in a revolt aganist the technocrats and his informal style led in turn to a revolt that replaced him with an administration that pursued a punishing schedule and obsessed over detail, more manager than leader.

And this explains why the low-charisma management of the past nine years has divided voters over whether they want leaders capable of inspiring trust, or want more of the same detail-oriented management style we’ve been seeing.

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty and define our terms to see why we’re divided and how we might reconcile the two. This man, Gary Wills, has written often and brilliantly on leadership and let me read you his definition of the word.

In his book “Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders,” he says a leader is someone who can move people to act on, and pursue, the goals leader and followers share.

He holds up as a model the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man of charisma, eloquence, and political smarts. Wills wrote that what made Roosevelt a leader was that he lent his charisma to subordinates and created institutions that outlived him: he inspired changes that had a lasting impact and benefit for the public, like Social Security.

In contrast, Wills held up John F. Kennedy as a negative example of a leader, because he viewed the bureaucracy and government as an opponent, a target for macho aggression; the result was that instead of fostering institutions, Kennedy kept trying to tear them down to prove he could win.

For managers, we move on to ancient text that is widely studied not just by soldiers, but by people in business: “The Art of War” by the sage and general, Sun Tzu.

In war we hear of great generals making eloquent speeches, a hallmark of the effective leader. But Sun Tzu wrote that this wasn’t enough; you had to institutionalize orders and communications, the network of gongs and drums, and seeing beyond the horizon by means of flag signals. The job of the manager, then, is to use these instruments of communication and control so everyone in the organization forms a single body, where it is impossible for the brave to advance alone or the cowardly to act alone: in other words, management is the art of handling large masses of men.

So you’ve seen leadership is inspirational, the handling of trust issues, while managers are interested in the smooth functioning of systems. A gigantic amount of literature has been written on these challenges. Let me pick from The Practice of Leadership Blog to point out a crucial difference between those who advocate leadership and those who prefer management.

Citing a classic article from the Harvard Business Review in 1977, the blog quotes Abraham Zalesnik as saying managers and leaders differ in the conception they hold concerning chaos and order deep in their psyche. Managers hate chaos, leaders tolerate it; managers prefer order to the extent they will try to impose it, while leaders will postpone artificially imposed order and let things be chaotic for a while, if it will help a situation unfold and the problem reveal itself more fully. Leaders, according to Zalesnik, have more in common artists and creative thinkers than they do with managers.

The Changing Minds dot org blog has a great chart that boils down the difference between leaders and managers.

At the heart of it, if you look at the blue words in the center of the chart, is a question of style. Leaders are transformational, they inspire people to do things differently. Managers, on the other hand, are transactional, fostering deals to get things done. Leaders will sell; managers tell; leaders exchange excitement for work; managers exchange money for work.

The Wall Street Journal’s Management online page also looks at the literature to explore these contrasts, as put forward by Alan Murray.

It’s an interesting study in contrasts: the manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people; the manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust. The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

In 1947 the Free Press published this editorial cartoon of Manuel Roxas, elected as a leader with management gifts, to show the crushing problems of his office and the country’s future.

In 1955 the Free Press would publish this cartoon of Magsaysay, elected not because he was a manager, even though he successfully served in the Department of Defense, but because his leadership was demonstrated in his breaking ties with Quirino rather than continue under a president who was ineffective in the public’s mind. But for all his leadership skills, Magsaysay also faced crushing problems of administration.

So as we prepare to say goodbye to the old and elect the new, one thing is sure: the problems will be gigantic. If the past is any guide, we, the people know we should look for leaders who can also be managers, but also, that the bigger the problem, the more necessary it becomes to find an inspirational leader.

So when we return, we’ll be exploring the two aspects and ask, how do we tell if a candidate can be both leader and manager?

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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