Leaders and Managers

I’ve done a lot of reading and have had many conversations with colleagues over the years about the key competencies that shape great leaders and managers.   In our transformation projects with the Government of Canada (GC), I’ve also acquired appreciable experience interacting with leaders and managers right across the board in policy, program, business line and enabling service areas.

One of the challenges that I often face, particularly in our organizational redesign assignments, is that the key competencies for leaders and managers are not consistently defined and are often defined in isolation of one another.   Case in point: the definition for key competency profiles for executives in government, which can be easily found through a Google Search:

The new profile continues to underscore the classic leadership competencies of creating vision and strategy, mobilizing people, upholding integrity and respect, and achieving results. Two competencies, promoting innovation and guiding change, and collaborating with partners and stakeholders which are essential in the current context, are also part of the profile (source: Treasury Board Secretariat)

A similar search for the Definition of Management in the GC unfortunately yields the following results: “Policy on Information Management”, “Policy on Materiel Management” and “Government of Canada Project Management”.   Search optimization challenges aside, this does reveal two deficiencies:

  1. A coherent and easily accessible definition of management in the GC with associated key management competencies
  2. Lack of an aligned or integrated definition of leadership and management competencies.

This latter deficiency is particularly telling, as it simply doesn’t reflect the reality that today’s executives in the GC (or anywhere for that matter) must embody both leadership and management competencies in order to adjust to rapidly-changing work environments while serving their organizations, stakeholders and high-performing workforces.

To address this situation, I’ve prepared the following table which attempts to align 12 key competencies or focuses for leaders and managers.   Let’s have a look:

Key Competency or Focus Leader


1.       Lens Strategic Operational
2.       Oversight Strategy Planning
3.       Goal-setting Vision Mission
4.       Performance Outcomes Outputs
5.       Reflection Why and what? What and how?
6.       Paradigm Shift Transformation Transition
7.       Advancement Innovation Improvement
8.       Scope Enterprise Division/Unit
9.       Influence Inspiration Motivation
10.   Guidance Mentorship Coaching
11.   Communication Top-down Bottom-up
12.   Risk Embracement Mitigation


Three key considerations that I’ve distilled from this list:

  1. One isn’t better than the other. Strong leaders and managers shouldn’t be at odds with one another.   Despite different areas of focus, leaders and managers must both subscribe to the same vision and values, and both can deliver tremendous value to their organizations by working in alignment to enable high-performing workforces.
  2. You need a balance of the two. Like having “too much of a good thing”, organizations need to mitigate this situation by fostering a proper balance of leaders and managers, or risk harm to their corporate health and performance objectives.
  3. There are seldom distinct “leaders” and “managers”. In my experience, both sets of competencies can be embodied in the same person.   For example, as partners at a midsize consulting firm, my business partner and I are expected to espouse both leadership and management abilities in growing the company while serving our staff, associates, and clients.  In the GC, ADMs and DGs routinely exhibit leadership qualities in setting strategic or policy objectives while serving management duties to their teams.

This list is by no means exhaustive or complete, so let’s start the conversation and treat it as a work in progress. When thinking about the list, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this list as comprehensive as it can be, or is there more I can add based on my own experience and observations?
  2. Which three qualities of leadership/management do I have?
  3. Which of these qualities are most important to me in an employee, or in a boss?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, insights and suggestions as I prepare an updated list in a few months’ time.

Denis Barbeau is a Systemscope Partner and engineer with more than 15 years of experience helping public sector clients to successfully address significant organizational and business challenges. As the Practice Lead for Strategic Business Consulting, Denis’ experience and specializations include business planning and transformation, organizational redesign, governance and integrated process management. Denis’ broad experience in the public and private sectors, coupled with excellent communication skills, allows him to leverage best practices for a wide variety of organizations and propose achievable solutions for the benefit of his clients. In 2008, Denis was named one of the National Capital Region’s Forty under 40 by the Ottawa Business Journal. The awards recognize business people under the age of 40 for their career accomplishments, professional expertise and community and charitable involvement


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