Source | LinkedIn : By Duff McDonald
On the one hand, Professor Abraham Zaleznik was a typical HBS lifer: After earning his MBA in 1947, he stuck around to earn his doctorate in commercial science and subsequently spent more than four decades on the faculty. But he wasn’t typical, really. More interested in the social psychology behind leadership than in how to squeeze a few more dollars out of a product, Zaleznik also spent more than a decade studying at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society Institute and twenty years as a practicing clinical psychoanalyst while teaching at HBS.
Zaleznik’s early work was in keeping with the thinking of Elton Mayo in that he sought, in instances of worker dissatisfaction, an answer that lay in the worker’s unconscious mind rather than in the actions of managers themselves. Along with coauthors C. Roland Christensen, George Homans, and Fritz Roethlisberger, his 1958 book, The Motivation, Productivity, and Satisfaction of Workers: A Prediction Study, explained that the worker brought at least part of his dissatisfaction to work with him. Zaleznik later explained the thesis: “Underlying their behavior was a need to protect themselves from, and achieve a measure of control over, authority figures in the factory, community, and society.”
But that was chewing over old turf. Where Zaleznik broke new ground was in a 1977 article he wrote for HBR, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” The question was very timely—by the late 1970s, American managers’ high self-regard had become so deep-seated that leadership development had become profoundly conservative, overemphasizing competence and control at the expense of inspiration, vision, and passion. In short, America had been “overmanaged” and “underled.” While it was too late to avoid the effects of that shift—the country never saw its economic comeuppance coming—the article nevertheless served to spark a revolution in the priorities of business schools that suddenly found that they were selling a product no longer in demand. Zaleznik’s question was on point, but few could have foreseen the monumental—and not entirely positive—changes that it unleashed.
Indeed, the article’s future impact can be traced to just nine words: “managers and leaders are very different kinds of people.” How different? Managers are competent. They focus on process. They make the trains run on time. Leaders are imaginative. They focus on substance. They decide where the train is going to go. Per author Matthew Stewart: “Managers are people who do things right; leaders are people who do the right thing.” Wallace Donham had wanted Harvard MBAs to be both. But suddenly, it seemed, one had to make a choice.