Leadership and Management – Which one is more important in a lean construction?

Is there a difference between leadership and management? Many will say “yes, huge difference”, if so, why do most lean construction improvement projects lose momentum, not follow through, not achieve longer term benefits or sustain changes? According to a McKinsey report, 70% change programmes fail in some way.

Good leadership is required on all levels. But what differentiates leading from managing? A few collated answers from companies and peers clears the picture and stimulates personal debate on whether we, as individuals or companies, are managers or leaders, a bit of both or more so one than the other?

  • Managers have subordinates while a leader have followers (following being a voluntary action)
  • Leaders have vision while managers have objectives
  • Leaders gets followers to transcend self-interest for the sake of the team while managers is responsive to immediate “self-interest” (immediate dept/project/activities) if it can be met by getting the work done
  • Leaders seek change while managers seek stability
  • Leaders pave the way and sets directions while managers plans details
  • Leaders facilitates decisions while managers makes them
  • Leaders sells and induce actions while managers tell

Many people lead and manage at the same time. Leadership alone without good management will not help achieve the vision. Good management alone only allows achievement of established objectives. In the era of true innovation, only companies with a balanced proportion of good leadership and good management will be able to truly differentiate themselves in the industry.

6ix has and is now working with hundreds of companies and projects. With increasing demand for lean thinking in the industry, we can now, to put it bluntly, identify the wheat from the chaff. With experience we are now able to identify companies that have leadership and management, lacks leadership but have good management, have leadership but lacks good management, lacks leadership and lacks good management (with variable gradient dependent on company as a whole or individuals). So, what makes a good company (macro view) or project (micro view)?

We want and need leadership qualities in all levels of the company. Most people when asked who the leaders are, more often than not the reply will be “higher ranking” people, not understanding that we are all leaders individually on all levels. From a simplistic point of view, we need leadership from Director level to make decisions to implementing change, we need leadership in upper and middle management to pave the way to make changes and we need leadership in lower management to sell and action the changes. We need the people we come into contact with during activities, whether it’s business or construction processes, to have the vision, to facilitate decisions, to set directions, to seek change, to challenge or sell ideas and close actions i.e. lean doing. Lacking in good management? No problem, we have tools and techniques for that. Leadership however, requires fostering. The culture of the company and its supply chain, is dictated by the people working within it. Leadership is borne from individuals at all levels.

01/00/1998. File pictures of Mahatma Gandhi

“We must become the change we want to see” – Gandhi.

In a nutshell, good management is good enough for short-term gains but leadership is critical to longer-term sustainability of improvement and change. Most of us (the managers in us) believe we already “are the change”, we already “are good leaders”. Hence critical self-analysis is vital to continually moving us from good managers to great leaders with good management skills.