Management vs Leadership – does it matter?

Leading while managing Courtesy: research-methodology.inc

Leading while managing
Courtesy: research-methodology.inc

Questions about the difference between management and leadership are guaranteed to elicit literally hundreds of responses when posted on a discussion forum. Most people have an opinion – and you may feel an answer rising in your throat as you read this.

However, there tends to be little variation in the answers. Leadership is usually described as being all about followers, direction, inspiration and so on, while management is about administration and implementation – the engine of an organisation. So why does the question generate such immediate and numerous responses?

The answer is probably because leadership seems somehow ‘sexier’ than management; a higher order activity. Leadership therefore needs to be distinguished from its more ordinary cousin, management. As such, the personal qualities that are claimed as needed for ‘good’ leadership include: charisma, passion and role modelling. All in all, very daunting for the mere mortal!

A more sophisticated interpretation might recognise that leadership happens all the time and comes from a host of different people; and usually happens while people are managing. Thus, the process of ‘managing’ requires people to do something they are unlikely to do otherwise, which means that the manager must influence them. Sometimes this is positive, but sometimes negative too. Sometimes they do it consciously, and sometimes unconsciously.

We have all seen the impact a difficult or unpleasant person can have. In doing so, they often say things or act in ways that are impactful e.g. by being rude, openly critical, or displaying strong reactions. In consequence, people tend to treat them with kid gloves and take care not to offend them.

Positive leadership must work on the opposite. Never mind charisma or inspiration; just be a bit outspoken; speak your mind and speak up for what you believe in. If one bad apple can infect a whole group, one good apple should be able to do the same.

Perhaps we should learn from our less positive colleagues and use simple interjections to jump between being being mangers and leaders.

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