Is Management Women’s Work?

Many scholarly and popular writers differentiate between management and leadership—the leader envisions and directs change while the manager administers the organization (Kotter, 2007). Doesn’t this cartoon make leadership sound appealing and management sound terrible?

While this distinction might be useful in scholarly studies and to promote leadership consulting, in my opinion the differentiation between management and leadership is a false duality.  In formal, hierarchical positions, people must both lead and to manage, often at the same time.  The perpetuation of this false duality has led to a global human resources consulting market of $31 billion ($US) in 2016 (“Global consulting market size by sector 2016,” 2018). 

So why the false duality?  Perhaps the answer is as simple as creating a more interesting marketing pitch.   However, I suspect there is more to this question.  Andrew Potter suggests in his book “The Authenticity Hoax” that as class markers become more accessible to the general population, that authenticity has become a way that people can mark their distinctiveness or their superior position in our society (Potter, 2010).  In the post-industrial age, we seem to have more and more managers.  Are we trying to separate mere managers from leaders or to mark leaders as somehow better than managers?  The way we teach leadership is problematic as illustrated by this quote from Collison and Tourish (2015):

Mainstream pedagogy assumes that the practice of leadership is an extraordinary phenomenon, which can only be mastered by a “new breed of change agents” (Morrison, 2003: 4). Typically, there is little mention of misjudgment, greed, narcissism, shame, duplicity, stupidity, hubris, soaring CEO salaries, power, and lack of democracy or employee involvement: that is, there is no mention of many of the emotional and political issues that frequently preoccupy real people in real organizations. Rather, power is depicted as a neutral resource to be deployed for relatively unproblematic ends. (p. 580)

Recently, some colleagues and I were exchanging feedback and observations on some work related to our dissertations.  Thomasz Guzowski pointed out to me that the differentiation between management and leadership looked to be gendered, with women doing the management and men doing the leading.  As I’ve noted before, it has been documented that female managers and academics tend to do more of the “institutional housekeeping” than do male managers and academics.  And, according to the most recent Women in the Workplace report (Thomas et al., 2018), while women account for 38% of managers, they account for only 22% of C-suite leaders.  Thus, women manage, and men lead. Is this dichotomy merely another way to keep women out of the C-suite?

We need to get rid of this false duality between managing and leading.  We need to get rid of the multi-billion-dollar industry that promotes the idea that leaders are somehow different and better than us mere mortals.  We need to get rid of the leader-follower differentiation. And most of all, we need to start asking the hard questions about our leaders and their self-interest, which are reproduced in business school in each and every graduating class. 


Collinson, D., & Tourish, D.(2015). Teaching leadership critically: New directions for leadership pedagogy.Academy of Management Learning & Education, 14(4), 576–594.https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2014.0079

Global consulting market size by sector 2016. (2018). Retrieved December 5, 2018, from http://www.statista.com/statistics/624426/global-consulting-market-size-by-sector/

Kotter,J. P. (2007). What leaders really do. In R. P. Vecchio (Ed.), Leadership:Understanding the dynamics of power and influence in organizations (2nd ed., pp. 23–32). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Potter, A. (2010). The authenticity hoax. McClelland & Stewart.

Thomas, R., Cooper, M., Konar, E., Rooney, M., Noble-Tolla, M., Bohrer, A., … Robinson,N. (2018). Women in the workplace 2018. Lean In and McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from https://womenintheworkplace.com/

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