Management v Leadership - Bob Selden
leadership or management

Leadership or Management – Is there a difference?

It seems that some writers, keen to establish what makes a great manager 'great', have settled on the term 'leadership' as a distinguishing factor. Then they've tried to define it. Then we tried to measure it. Some of us even tried to teach it! And there our troubles began.

So, is it management or leadership? Does it matter? Let me put another spin on the topic . . .

I was talking with the facilitator of a PD workshop in Lausanne a little while back. He was apologizing that his company's name had 'management' rather than 'leadership' in their title. He mentioned that the firm had been going for 25 years (which speaks volumes for their success) and that the world had now moved on. But because of their success, they could not change their name to include 'leadership'.

It seems that no longer do we talk about 'management', rather 'leadership' is considered the fashionable thing to discuss and to teach. Read on to find out ...

I was quick to jump to the defence of his firm's founders. I believe, that despite whatever the current fashion is, they got it right. They are a company that specialises in helping managers improve their performance. They teach management not leadership. Management can be taught. Leadership cannot be taught or even learned - it must be earned.

Where did all this talk of leadership come from?

If one looks at the management development literature, it is only over the last 20 and particularly the last 10 years, that leadership is mentioned at all. Prior to that, leadership was mostly only assigned to historical political figures such as Napoleon, Churchill, Kennedy, Mandella and so on. These were people who earned the title 'leader'. 'Leader' was never assigned to organisational supremos. Nor was it given to any manager. It seems that some writers, keen to establish what makes a great manager great, settled on the term 'leadership' as a distinguishing factor. Then they tried to define it. Then we tried to measure it. Some of us even tried to teach it! And there our troubles began.

At the risk of throwing yet another perspective into the management/leadership ring, here goes . . .

My contention is that one becomes a manager when one signs on for the job (be it head of the country, firm, school, department or first line supervisor). One only becomes a leader when other people say so.

So, a person when given the title of manager from the organisation, is a little like giving them their manager's hat.  People will automatically do things for the person wearing the manager's hat (either well or not so well depending on how well the people are managed) because of what the person's role is, not (initially) who the person is. Only other people - the manager's team and other stakeholders - can bestow on the manager the informal title of 'leader' (whatever his or her level may be, including the CEO).

In other words, the organisation gives out a corporate manager's hat that lets everyone in the organisation know that this person is now officially a manager. Then, the people, when they believe in the manager and have faith in the manager, give the manager his or her leadership badge, their badge of honour!

This definition of leadership, rather than focusing on the inputs such as personal skills, characteristics, competencies, traits, personality etc., focuses on the outputs. That is, managers are judged on their status as a leader in the eyes of their followers and stakeholders by what they do and achieve, not on the title they may have.

I have a short test that I often pose to managers to test their current leadership status: 'Would the people who report to you and the other key stakeholders whose support you need, do the things you currently ask them to do if you were not officially the manager?' If they can truthfully answer 'Yes', then there's a high likelihood that they have established the outputs that encourage others to follow them.

What are these outputs that set leader-managers apart from mere managers? In conjunction with a colleague Dennis Pratt, I have been conducting focus groups within organisations to tease out these conditions (these focus groups were used as part of the design process for management development processes). My research suggests there are four conditions within the group or team that exist when a leadership function is flourishing. Leadership by the way, occurs at all levels of the organisation.

The essence of leadership is to create the four conditions that encourage others to follow. When leadership is evident within the group or team, there is:

- A shared understanding of the environment - 'We know what we face' 

- A shared vision of where we are going - 'We know what we have to do'

- A shared set of organisational values and a feeling of team - 'We are in this together'

- A shared feeling of power - 'We can do this'

You'll notice that the word 'shared' appears in all four conditions. That's because leadership is a function and does not necessarily reside with one person. Whilst the manager will most likely take the lead in establishing these conditions, when leadership takes hold, it is likely to be distributed throughout the team or group – various people taking a leadership role as and when needed (Charles Handy called this 'distributed leadership').

Management is mandatory. Not managing effectively and efficiently to meet one's assigned responsibilities means certain organisational death.

Leadership on the other hand, is optional.

As consultants, trainers, managers, my belief is that we should continue to focus on helping managers improve their managerial performance. For those who want to take that extra leadership step, we can help them give birth to the leadership function within their group or team by providing the tools, coaching and guidance to establish the four outputs mentioned earlier.

It's interesting to note that my discussion with the PD facilitator I mentioned earlier took place at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne. IMD is not about to change its name to include 'leadership'. Whilst I'm sure they spend a lot of time discussing leadership, I'm certain they are actually teaching management. They must be doing it quite well, as recently they have been ranked equal first with Harvard by their clients as providers of 'best non-degree executive business programs'.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts - Is it leadership or management?


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