What is Managerial Leadership? An Overview

Untold numbers of authors have made much of “leadership.”  And there is much wisdom in the literature, but there can be much confusion, also, especially when the specifics are taken in aggregate.  That is, what one author lists as the “21 Essential Skills of Leadership,” another author emphasizes the “15 Fundamentals of Leadership Excellence,” and another author proclaims the “Nine Indispensible Competencies of the Great Leader.”

What is further confusing is that many authors do not discriminate the skills necessary to lead a business, a non-profit, a church-group, a golf tournament, or a platoon of soldiers.

So let’s be clear:  While there are considerable differences in leading a software development firm or a sheet-steel manufacturer or a chemical commodity enterprise or a construction firm, etc. , we are solely interested in thinking about leading for-profit businesses (at all levels).  The profit-motive of a business operating in a competitive market places a unique set of conditions on an organization, and subsequently, a manager-leader.

There is a somewhat natural opposition of driving concerns in the set of skills and competencies that make up (1) Management and (2) Leadership.  For the most part, each individual job position will have certain opportunities and constraints on it that will dictate to what degree Management concerns and Leadership concerns are the primary part of the current agenda.

But let’s take a moment to consider the differences in the driving concerns:


  • Near-Term Performance
  • Assuring Standard Work processes to assure standards of quality and production
  • Measurement and Control
  • Resourcefulness
  • Solidifying & Stabilizing Processes to reduce Variation
  • Linear, Systematic, Reductionistic Thinking
  • Transactional Concerns with internal and external vendors and stakeholders
  • Maximizing Efficiencies
  • Seeks Simplicity


  • Long-Term Capability
  • Innovation
  • Broadening the Scope of Empowered Decision-Making
  • Upsets the Status Quo & Provokes Change
  • Lateral, Disruptive Thinking
  • Visionary-Expansionist-Opportunistic Thinking
  • Explores Complexity
  • Seeks Transformation

A Managerial Leader must integrate these driving concerns, for to fail to do so is to sacrifice either current performance, or long-term potential.  Neither is acceptable in a business environment.

The scope of competencies to effectively perform as a managerial leader has been identified by several sources as numbering in the dozens; some experts have established rationale for at least 72 distinct competencies — and this is beyond specific technical skill and industry knowledge.  While this may seem like a great quantity, it speaks to the complexity of high-level management.

Many experts have also recognized that there is no “one, single, utilitarian skillset for Managerial Leaders.”  Different skills are required at different levels within a management hierarchy; the skills are generally additive and developmental.  That is, you have to have one skillset to move to the next level effectively, where a new skillset must also be learned in order to be effective.

In fact, the transitions that individuals must make require the learning of new skills, and being able to handle the additional complexity when moving from:

  • Being a Sole Contributor, to
  • Managing People (their Performance & Projects), to
  • Managing Managers, to
  • Managing Systems of Functions, to
  • Managing a Business unit, to
  • Managing an Enterprise (Portfolio of Business Units).

Further factors that affect the needed skills in this progression are

  1. the speed of change in an industry,
  2. the speed of change in the business or enterprise itself,
  3. the financial health and position of the business entity, and
  4. the need for stability or transformation in the individual unit of management.

In the end, it is essential to resist the inclination to simplify the scope of definition  of a Managerial Leader, and come to accept the fact that it is a highly complex and situational.

Once this reality of complexity is understood and appreciated, mature and sophisticated discussion about Managerial Leadership is relevant and useful.

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