Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The ubiquity of leadership

When people ask me the difference between leadership and management, I ask them to consider the difference between management and governance.  Not that I’m equating governance with leadership, but I think this is a good place to start.  Management is essentially about administration, while governance is about oversight of an organisation’s work.  Once this is clarified, it’s easier to talk about leadership.

(As an aside, what is “operational management”? Surely this is tautology? To test it, what is the opposite?  Non-operational management?  That makes no sense. Sometimes operational management is contrasted with strategic management, but this is not correct, as you can reasonably have strategic operational management, and in any case, the opposite of strategy is tactics, not operations.)

Senior managers and non-executive directors (sometimes non-remunerated) have a leadership role in organisations, to provide vision, articulate strategy, and oversee the organisation’s work (this is leadership in governance).  Managers include leadership as part of their role, as they are expected to lead, influence and inspire people, alongside their other responsibilities for managing resources, etc (this is leadership in management).

And anybody and everybody else can exercise leadership too. Respected co-workers – perhaps, but not necessarily, those with greater experience – often fulfil a mentoring role, and provide leadership.  The most junior, and inexperienced, employee can demonstrate leadership in individual instances, perhaps well beyond their usual day-to-day responsibilities.

The military are familiar with the concept of leadership in the field being offered by non-commissioned officers and by the rank-and-file.  And I once listened to Sir Alex Ferguson going through the England football team, picking out nearly every member of it as a leader. Team sports give us many examples of leadership from those other than the designated leader (the coach, the captain, etc). Politicians from the cabinet to the backbenches of local councils demonstrate leadership. Trades unions throw up workplace leaders outside the management structure. And communities find leaders among volunteers when the situation demands it.  We’ve all heard about “natural leaders”, who are not in leadership roles. Leadership is everywhere.

We all lead; or we all can lead. We lead by vision and by example: we show the way and we lead the way. Everyone can be a leader, given the right combination of their personal qualities/skills and a relevant situation to apply them.

So leadership is a subset of management, in terms of the skills and responsibilities of managers, but it’s also a broader concept.  And it’s not just for top management.

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