Leadership and management, two fundamental roles in a transformation

Leadership and management, two fundamental roles in a transformation

If you want to be one of those “leaders who transform” we are sorry to disappoint you. Leaders, on their own, do not transform. They inspire change and foster innovation, but leadership without management is not enough. Managers who -inspired by the vision of the leaders- work day by day to build the change we seek are as vital as the leaders who imagined that change. These are two complementary and absolutely necessary roles.

To transform is to change the culture


Culture is one of the greatest differentials an organization has. It has an impact on employee productivity, business success, the capacity for innovation, and adaptability to new challenges… But what do we talk about when we talk about culture?

Culture is what we try to describe when we say “this is how we do things here”. It has to do with how we act, how decisions are made, how people interact, which behaviors are reinforced and which are not.

Culture is:

  • Unique and distinctive: Each organization has its own culture.
  • Self-defined: It cannot be categorized into default types or be a “copy of”. What has worked in other organizations is not necessarily what suits us or what we need.
  • Explicit in habits and behaviors: It is reflected in how we act on a day-to-day basis.


If we want to transform culture, it is essential that we all understand, articulate, and speak of culture in the same way. This is what leading change is all about.

The role of leaders is to define a vision for change and achieve alignment of the entire organization with this vision. Leaders must define, deploy and embody the culture.


More on the importance of organizational leadership and its role in defining a vision for change here.

A dual system


Management is not the same as leadership. John P. Kotter proposes a dual operating system, in which two basic and critical functions coexist in a way that is often confused as one.


The hierarchical structure

It is a structure that gives an order, helps manage, and makes the day-to-day predictable and with fewer avoidable errors. This structure, present both in traditional pyramidal organizations and in horizontal organizations, implies a certain framework of roles, processes, and procedures that allow predictability.

While the hierarchical structure can be very useful, as it provides reliable day-to-day management, it can also be limiting and undermine growth.


Strategic leadership

Agile strategic leadership provides a network of people with a clear vision, a lot of passion to communicate, attract talent, and guide work teams forward. This leadership, typical of startups, facilitates growth, commitment, and, above all, a very particular culture that aligns people in pursuit of a common goal.

The problem is that this leadership, by itself, is not enough to make daily work effective.

Management vs. leadership


Management is a well-known set of processes that help:

  • obtain reliable, efficient, and predictable results,
  • guarantee daily operation and ensure that we do well what we know how to do.


Leadership, on the other hand, implies creating something different from what we have today, inspiring change and innovation. It is needed to:

  • create an organization,
  • find new opportunities from the company created,
  • make changes to capitalize on those opportunities,
  • move the company into a future to grow and prosper,
  • define culture.

The Dual Operating System, John P. Kotter (2018)

We invite you to use the previous infographic to understand which kind of profiles you have (or lack!) in order to achieve the transformation. Maybe you have innovative leaders but you lack talent with management capacity? Or, the other way around, do you have people capable of managing but who have difficulty reacting to the unexpected?

Keep in mind that the two roles do not appear in their pure state and that there may be people who will have a mix of competencies. What we need to understand is that we require both profiles when facing change.

How leadership and management complement each other


One tool that is very useful when starting a change project is the change vision canvas. We use this canvas to easily visualize the key elements of our project, what we want to achieve and how to do it.

Vision of change canvas

As you can see, leadership will be crucial in some areas, and management will be required in others, and there are aspects in which a combined leadership and management work becomes necessary.

1. Unique vision of change: It is the main task of leadership, the expression of what we want to achieve and where we want to go.

2. Impacted stakeholders: Whoever manages the project must understand which groups will be affected by the change in order to mitigate their resistance. This requires a cold analysis and a deep understanding of the areas of the organization, and the different groups that exist within the areas.

3. Future state: An integrated leadership and management work is required in this field. Management needs to understand what must be done in order to achieve the proposed vision. Vision is the starting point to understand what processes need to be modified and how to measure changes.

4. Risks of not changing: At this point we aim to analyze the situation we are in and the problems we see in the future. Interaction is necessary in order to ensure that leaders convey what they imagine of the future and that the manager can contrast it with the current situation.

5. Why the change and why now?: In the same way, an inspiring vision and a realistic point of view are needed to generate the sense of urgency that the change project needs.

6, 7, and 8. The focus of the change plan, key indicators, milestones, and schedule: Planning activities, control, and tactics to make the proposed vision a reality is the responsibility of the management, who will carry out the project.

In conclusion


Transforming -or building culture- is the joint task of management and leadership. We need leaders who inspire and agile managers who know how to analyze, adjust the vision of change to reality and ensure that we are on the right track every step of the way.

We must not forget that change is permanent, and that is why permanent communication between management and leadership is essential.

Authors: Carolina Sordelli and Martín Molteni

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