Leadership vs Management: Tale of the tape

After seeing Scott Berkun’s post on , I decided to do my own search on Google’s Ngram Viewer and compared four words: innovation, creativity, management and leadership. Graph below or :


As you can see, in the last decade ‘management’ (green) is becoming less relevant in books. Incredibly so is ‘leadership’ (blue). What’s more interesting still now with hindsight is how from 1960 – 2000, mentions of management went to the stratosphere while leadership stayed more or less the same.

Why such discrepancy?

My take is that part of our education system (as well as workplace) is focused on creating managers. The whole industrial revolution was the major cause in this shift. My parents drilled this into my head also and I know a lot of my former classmates desired to become managers and still do. Managers are ‘the boss’ they say. That’s a flawed logic (fixed mindset) in the context of innovation because managers are like the nuts that keep the tires from spinning off the car while it’s moving, they keep the wheels moving. Steady as she goes. Whereas in the creative pursuit the tires will change a lot more than planned for. Hell, the nuts, bolts and structures will change too.

This is what’s taught in most schools: strive to become a manager because you’ll be the one to tell others what to do. Get an MBA and be the boss.

I guess the economic reset put that notion into submission.

More leadership, less management

Have you ever counted how many leaders vs managers are in organizations? Lots. That needs to change to a healthy balance. My argument is not that management shouldn’t exist, it’s just how it’s perceived that is the problem. By creating more management (structure) we’re alienating others and our own freedom to create. We need more leaders not more managers.


P.S. Just noticed that since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve never created a ‘management’ category for posts. Will keep it that way. That tells you something Winking smile

Enhanced by Zemanta

Next Article

How to find the best insights for innovation

Find insights for innovation using Maddock Douglas's 'insight statement'.
  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Leadership vs Management: Tale of the tape | Game-Changer -- Topsy.com()

  • Ralph Ohr

    Great idea and anlysis, Jorge! I think, the Books Ngram Viewer is an interesting tool.

    Some quick “two cents” on this:
    I quickly added “strategy” to your selection and noted an interesting correlation between management and strategy:

    This might indicate that we strive towards a change in understanding how business is accomplished. Could it be the case that terms like ‘management’ and ‘strategy’ are considered to become increasingly less relevant for the changing business environment?

    I think, this thought fits quite well to your conclusion, that more leadership is needed. For me, roughly, management is primarily about optimizing the exsiting (exploitation) while leading is much about changing and creating something new. It’s similar to innovation, we need both – but the proportion might shift towards leadership in the future.

    Another interesting term is “customer experience” – obviously it has significantly gained of importance in the previous 10 years:

    I was a little bit disappointed about the result for “design thinking” – have a look:

    What do you think?

    Cheers, Ralph

    • Ralph Ohr
    • Hi Ralph (ralph_ohr),

      Thanks for pushing it further 🙂 I’ve put all of them in one graph for more perspective here: http://bit.ly/fFQiVF

      Interesting question, I think we’ve gotten to a point where we understand enough of it that books expose the same stuff (no new knowledge) but with different examples. People are just ‘over it’, heard enough (you can see this on reviews on Amazon too!) of it.

      Also remember that a lot of ‘knowledge’ has been published on the internet but lots of people in the past decade, I get the feeling this is a major shift because they’re all dipping, same thing on the internet: http://bit.ly/f1omXR

      Really don’t know what to make of it, but it’s interesting to ponder some more 🙂


  • Hello Jorge!

    This is a topic that deserves more than two cents and therefore i will pay in installments. 🙂

    But I’ll start by saying that I am happy with the data displayed in the graph because I think the management begins (slowly) to be seen by different lenses than “pure” knowledge (absorbing information and replication), and shall include other viewpoints with more dose of creativity.

    Admittedly we were educated in the logic of the deduction and induction and skills related to the handling of data in order to ensure the application of established models and duly proven results and now we are faced with the need of unpredictable and possible.

    So I agree that we need more leadership, I would say more “builders” using Umair Haque expression and less management or administration as it was and still is tradition. I think even the MBA are moving in that direction.

    However I also think that the leadership is suffering, while attitude, big transformations, and the approach to human resources is made already differently than it was, a few years ago.

    Similarly the management will have to be reinvented and already there’s work in this direction with a tendency to develop, which means that maybe I will include this category in my blog.

    This is my first installment
    Jose Baldaia

    • Hi Jose,

      No doubt there are emerging initiatives such as MIX (#hackmanagement) that are pushing to turn management upside down but we need to go to the source of where it all starts and that’s education.

      Still, we’re headed in the right direction as the seeds are starting to get planted which is a HUGE step forward.

      I look forward to the rest of your installments Jose 🙂



  • This new tool will be fascinating to use, and to see how people interpret results. I find the decrease in leadership interesting and wonder how the various curves would look thru 2010. I’m not keen on the separation of leadership & management as 2 different things…and for the life of me i cannot remember where i just read something saying that they shouldn’t be separated (was a link via twitter, probably from you!) – need to ponder this more, but I bet the shape of the curves are a bit different 2000 to 2010!

    thank you for doing this!

    • Hi Deb,

      You have me going through my tweets hahaha but can’t recall if it was me. Nonetheless, I agree with you. They not separate. Although I do think some tend more towards one side than other, but still the qualities of leadership have more weight.

      My whole thing is we’ve built this ‘identity’ of manager to be desirable. It’s no surprise as to why it’s a desirable identity, the ladder doesn’t go any higher and people like to know where they’ll end up.

      Thanks for leaving your two cents 🙂

      P.S. See my reply to Ralph, I added a link to trends from the internet and the graph look practically the same as the one above.

      Let me know what you think,


  • Google’s Ngram Viewer is an excellent tool for word content predictive analytics. The leadership downward slope is predictable, when CEOs and/or the crowd engage in overuse of a word(s) you can anticipate a downward spiral. A new word pizzazz will come onto the field. Innovation is leveling off. At times we get hooked in the jaw with these words or trends and become blinded by shifts.

    What will be the next word(s) to catch fire? In the coming months, I anticipate Umair Haque’s cornerstones displayed in his awesome book “The Capitalist Manifesto – building a disruptive better business” to become a new word(s) to arrive in 2011. Offshore the cornerstones are blazing in a few country sectors.


    • Hi Steve,

      Good point. We’re getting back somewhat to basics, the cycle restarts itself. I haven’t finished Umair’s book (mid-way) but no doubt it’s a ‘mind opener’. All the stuff in the graph above is mainstream already, like you said, let’s look at the edges for new insights not the mainstream.



  • I do think that the discussion to be a leader or a manager has passed the ‘best before..’ date. Indeed it was relevant in the industrial age when there were managers needed who knew how the work should be done and who could read and write as well. Then when we moved to the information age, their roles were no longer sufficient, so we defined/detected a new set of activities and attached the label leader to it. And now it should not be an ‘either, or’ discussion, but an ‘and, and’ discussion, Both are needed.

    But…….I would think in todays environment, where most employees are very well educated (and can read and write as well) we need to develop self-sovereignty. We have to take responsibility for what we think, say and do. And we have to act fast in line with the companies purpose. if we wait for the hierarchy to make a decision we will be too slow and miss the opportunity.

    The focus should therefor also be on collaboration across silo’s and geo’s. What is needed are ‘facilitators’ who build a supportive infrastructure.

    The world is changing fast, so we need new roles and responsibilities.

    • Hi Arnold (@arnoldbeekes),

      Right on. I think there’s going to be a lot more of self-management, especially with Gen Y as mentioned continuously in the media. As you mention, the way work gets done has changed from face to face to avatar to avatar, that means trust has to be created a lot more faster. While there is some level of management still done, it’s more in the ‘make sure what matters is getting done’ variety.

      I like your idea of ‘facilitators’ and Jose’s (Umair’s) idea of ‘Builders’. They work hand in hand or are they the same?

      Thanks for the thoughtful post Arnold.



  • Hello Jorge!
    I played around a bit with Books Ngram Viewer and actually saw some interesting aspects mainly when you discuss the options, English, French and Spanish. I added a term in English which seemed important – administration.
    It seems to me that the trends are not global given the language of “corpus” but that doesn’t mean that in the last two years there is not a convergence of terms on people, not in the books, especially by virtue of social networks.
    In my opinion it was important to add to the process of evolution of the concept of leadership the various levels in which it is exercised.
    I do think that is not the same thing talk about leadership of a soccer team or management of a soccer club.
    In organizations something similar is happening and developments should be in the direction of management have a more active role in leadership and beyond exit offices pass working in flat structures, what passes for being a facilitator as Arnold Beekes said but above all a Team Builder.
    I imagine some predominance new words in the near future but many are new packaging for the same product. It was important that leadership and management don’t change only the wardrobe but were also a health and beauty treatment!
    I refer to a larger “concern” with people, creating conditions for more creativity and more targeting the real needs of consumers and users, and not only the needs of shareholders. Possibly this is the distinction that the divergence between leadership and management more increases.
    A new way of thinking the management can make a strong leadership with different roles!
    Another two cents!
    José Baldaia

    • Hi Jose,

      Thanks for pushing it further. You hit on a great point and that is the idea of shareholder value. I’ve always thought that managers exist for that reason. Keep the wheels going and steady as she goes to keep shareholders happy. Yet from a competitive standpoint, what makes shareholders happy doesn’t make employees and customers happy. This is all a very tricky dynamic.

      I would like to see a little more ‘easing off’ on the shareholder value idea in corporations and for that matter any other business that exists purely to make profits. I think there is some good possibility of this shifting but like all radical ideas, it will take time to see it on a larger scale.

      Also the idea of ‘facilitator’ and ‘builder’ seem to me to be the same thing, or what is the distinction?

      Thank you, let me know what you think.



  • Pingback: Great readings this week « Intuinovare()

  • Kevin McFarthing

    Thanks, Jorge, some good discussion here from your interesting article. It’s not a question of “or”, as Ralph rightly says it’s both. In general the further up the organisation you go and the more responsibility you get, the more you need to exercise leadership as you will usually have managers reporting to you. Leadership needs vision, imagination, courage and determination, as leading requires people to understand what change is needed and the ability to make it happen. Management also requires strong abilities, usually in the context of an accepted way of doing things.

    One reason why the line for management is on the way up and outstripping leadership could be that the word is now so often preceded by another word or phrase e.g. supply chain, customer relationship, supply chain, team, partnership, change etc. Leadership is much less often associated with something else.


    • Hi Kevin, (@innovationfixer),

      Interesting point. That’s also makes me think that’s why the perception of leadership is that only a ‘special’ few have it. Ex. I know a lot of managers but not a whole lot of leaders. The same could be said of managers, they know a lot of managers but not a lot of leaders.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Kevin.



  • Ned Kumar

    Interesting graphs. Thought I will contribute a few words to this discussion :-).

    The first area I want to touch on is the interpretation of the graph itself. One thing to keep in mind here is the fact that the results are from mining a “books” archive. With the proliferation of internet and electronic mediums, I would venture that there is a negative impact on the number of books published this past decade. I am guessing that part of the decline since 2000 is because of this impact. And while the Ngram is definitely fun and in some ways insightful, I also think we should take the results with a grain of salt – because of OCR (optical character recognition) errors, variation in the number of books published each year, emergence of new areas and hence more “hits” in modern times etc.

    Now coming to the ‘mangement’ vs ‘leadership’ discrepancy, I think there are many possible reasons for this (btw, I might be in the minority, but I do think mangement and leadership should be separated and are two distinct attributes. While there is definitely a overlap between the two as one grows into each, an excellent manager need not by default be an excellent leader as well and vice-versa.].

    One reason for the discrepancy could be as you say the explosion of the ‘management’ wave in the business world the last few decades and so by extension the 100s of books written on it. Another (I think) is the growing stress placed on quality – from Deming’s quality philosophies to the Six-Sigma from GE etc. . This in itself has also spawned many “management” books – or books with a high-density of the keyword “management”. Yet another reason could be the educational institutions. Every school has multiple courses with “management” in them – business management, production & operations management, information systems mangement etc. etc. but you hardly every find courses with “leadership” on it. Again, I am saying this because we are looking at the discrepancy in a books archive.

    And lastly, coming to the actual comparision between the two, I do think both will continue to play an important role but with different connotations than in previous decades. With the rise of social enterprise, management is no longer constrained to management of your employees. Similarly, in today’s world where the “crowd” (customer,constituents or whatever you want to substitute) is getting stronger by the day and with the rise of emerging technologies, the notion of what makes a good leader is also slowly undergoing some changes.

    Having said all this, the Ngram is definitley worth experimenting with – and fun to draw certain insights and learning.

    Thanks Jorge,


    • Hi Ned (@nedkumar),

      Thanks for bringing us back to Earth 🙂

      As you said this is just a tool to inform but not to help make the most informed guess. With that said, I did the same comparison in Google Insights for Search which shows trends of their respective ‘searches’ on the web. The graph looks pretty much the same compared to Ngram. I did this thinking along the same lines as you do that Ngram is mining for mentions in books and so there is a lot more that goes into it. See here:


      To make it more clear, what people are searching for (the words they use) sends a clear signal of what their intent is. Anything to do with ‘management’ is heavily searched for. Leadership yet again takes a back seat as well as the other words that are more related with the ‘art of leadership’. As Kevin mentioned in his comment:

      “One reason why the line for management is on the way up and outstripping leadership could be that the word is now so often preceded by another word or phrase e.g. supply chain, customer relationship, supply chain, team, partnership, change etc. Leadership is much less often associated with something else.”

      In the innovation domain, too much structure (as recent example of Delicious) doesn’t breed innovation. This is well discussed and argued on Twitter and recent Management books. There needs to be a balance. There’s too much focus on being ‘manager’ and not leader, and then the kicker is most people think they’re the same thing!


      Thanks again,


      • Ned Kumar

        Hi Jorge,
        I am not surprised at all that management outperforms leadership even in searches. As you said, many just assume the latter is buried in the former.

        In this regard, this confusion is further propagated by our use of the term ‘Management’ to indicate senior people in a firm with direct reports etc.. To be in a position of Senior Management, one does need leadership qualities — but management & leadership are not the same attributes.

        Anyway, interesting work with insight. There is a lot to be talked about in this area and some very interesting aspects on what makes each a success.


  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Leadership vs Management: Tale of the tape | Game-Changer -- Topsy.com()