Over-led and Under-managed

Last night I coached a successful leader who turned an organization around. Now he wonders if he’s the one to solve the problems success has created.

Successful leadership creates management challenges.

Successful management creates leadership challenges.

leaders distrupt

You can’t manage your way out of crisis. You can’t lead your way into stability.

Leaders disrupt. Managers stabilize.

Chaotic organizations are over-led. Stagnant organizations are over-managed. Warren Bennis put it this way, “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”

The swing:

Organizations swing between being over-managed and over-led. One creates the need for the other.

Over-managed organizations have systems and processes with no passion. Over-led organizations have heart with instability and chaos.


  1. Systems drain energy. You have three requisition forms for a box of paper clips.
  2. People go through the motions but have forgotten their purpose.
  3. Procedures turn into bureaucracy. You haven’t deleted a procedure since the Great Depression.
  4. No one challenges the way things are done.
  5. People become cogs in the machine. Everyone is lost in the weeds.


  1. Leaders struggle to keep all the balls in the air.
  2. Passion runs high. Processes run low.
  3. No one is really sure who does what?
  4. Training is learn-as-you-go. “Go figure it out.”
  5. Systems are the enemy. “Just do it.”

Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

The answer is who:

A collision of opposites is the answer to over-managed or over-led. Find some leaders who scare you. Hire some managers who drive you crazy.

Over-managed organizations need disruptors. Over-led organizations need system builders.

The tension:

Management without leadership becomes efficient stagnation.

Leadership without management becomes inefficient chaos.

How might leaders navigate tensions between over-led and over-managed?

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