We thought it might be useful to document our perspectives on what we think leadership is (and is not) and in what ways leadership and management are the same or different. SPOLIER ALERT: we think they are different!
At Blackmore Four, we spend a disproportionate amount of our time talking about and working on the topic of leadership. In part, that is because we are passionate about our subject matter but also because leadership is a critical aspect of any organisation and plays a key role in how effective (or otherwise) an organisation is.
We have developed our perspectives on leadership through study, research, experience and practice but the topic remains hotly debated and there is still no single source of truth regarding what leadership is, how to do it or what impact it has. We get asked what we mean by the term leadership, sometimes find ourselves with quite different views on the definition and often enter the fray of debating the difference between management and leadership. It is quite a messy space for such a simple word.
If you are thinking this is straightforward, then maybe ponder the following questions.
What is leadership? Is it simple? Do you think other people would agree? Do you think your colleagues would understand? Is that something that you can measure, assess and develop?
Are you a leader or a manager? Aren’t these the same thing? Are there specific differences? Can you be one without the other? Can you be both?
If you are a leader, what kind of leader are you? Do you have an answer? Can you say it out loud (without laughing)? How do you know it is right? Would anyone else agree?
We are going to start by exploring what this thing called LEADERSHIP is and how we have come to define and describe it, and then look at how this compares with MANAGEMENT.
What is leadership?
Like most dedicated research professionals keen to unearth great value, we start by googling it. Our google search for ‘definition of leadership’ suggests it is ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organisation’. So, there we have it, no need to look any further…!
Here are a few other definitions we found that we think are useful in this area.
“The behavioural process of influencing individuals and groups toward set goals” (Barrow, 1977)
“The process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives” (Yukl, 2006)
“A process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (Northouse, 2010)
“The ability of an individual to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organisation” (House et al, 1999)
What we find as we continue to wander through this topic is that there are many similar and different definitions of leadership that all make sense when we reflect on our own experiences. However, they don’t help us when it comes to the practical issue, within a specific business environment, of defining leadership requirements, identifying leadership within an organisation and/or designing development that has the required impact. They help make sense of history, but they do not predict the future.
At Blackmore Four, we define leadership simply as ‘a distinct set of capabilities and behaviours that determine and drive the purpose, values and direction of the organisation’ and we use that as a summary for what lies beneath.
- Leadership is contextual.
Leadership happens in context; it is not independent of its environment or circumstances. To be effective, leadership attributes are required to fit a business’ operating environment and be specifically relevant to the business ambition.
- Leadership is relational.
Leadership involves influencing the behaviour of others and for that to happen there needs to be some element of relational activity. This might involve charisma or authenticity or trust but determining what type of leadership is right will in some way depend on the people involved. Followers matter and the identification of ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ is seldom fixed.
- Leadership implies a destination.
The art and science of leading people has a fundamental implication that you are leading or being led somewhere – there is a destination. The destination may be vague or specific or somewhere in between and we might call it a vision or a set of goals or a purpose, but all of these things imply there is a common ‘end point’ – an identifiable and shared reason for being.
- Leadership is a shared process of inspiring action.
We believe leadership is also about a shared process – you might call it a journey – of action and reaction. Organisations require nurturing and moulding from different sources, which leads us to believe leadership in the context of commercial organisations is a shared effort. The many-to-many composition of leadership makes it more practical to harness leadership as an organisational attribute rather than a position of authority.
Political leaders are often used to exemplify different styles of leadership since they are closest to being universally known. They also tend to be the ones that polarise opinion. Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Jacinda Ardern might give us enough material to navigate our way through various leadership approaches and are sure to spark a passionate debate! Walt Disney, on the other hand, is hopefully a slightly less emotive subject and one we can use to bring this notion of leadership to life.
Walt Disney’s context is important – the ideas that put the name on the map came to life at a time when the US (and the world) were falling headlong into the Great Depression, swiftly followed by World War II. These were times of hardship and struggles rather than optimism or prosperity but at times like these, people are receptive to being inspired by more hopeful ambition. These times were also preceded by the technological advancement that made technical animation possible and started Disney on his journey to creating ‘the most magical place on earth’ (a destination). Walt Disney’s creativity and imagination influenced the contribution of his co-creators in a democratic manner, whilst retaining final authority on decision making. The relationships were complex but understood by those involved and over time Disney collaborated with hundreds, if not thousands, of people to produce work that achieved common goals. The shared process by which this worked evolved over several decades, and in many ways lived on beyond Disney himself, and demonstrates the nature of the participative leadership approach that Disney (the organisation) has taken.
Context changes, relationships change (people leave, join, grow, engage, disengage), sometimes aspects of our destination change and certainly the things that inspire collective behaviour change. The requirement for leadership is therefore subject to ongoing and complex change which makes the notion of ‘good’ leadership fluid not static. Leadership is not a fixed set of personal traits … something that you have or don’t have … it is a set of skills and behaviours that are developed and deployed between leaders and followers, available to everyone regardless of their designated role, experience or personal disposition and subject to tests of relevance and impact as business needs change.
Before we get carried away with effective leadership, let us now understand the thing we call MANAGEMENT.
What is management?
In some ways, this is also intended to outline what leadership is not, since it is our perspective that whilst the two things can and should co-exist, they are not the same. Management is fundamentally about predictability, managing resources and process to produce predictable outcomes. Management requires clear planning, disciplined resource allocation and organisation (typically budgeting and staffing), and rigorous process management, including appropriate supervision, controls and risk management. To a large degree, the use of policy, process and procedure are aids for measuring compliance to stabilise and determine collective performance.
Management covers a significant range of responsibilities and requires a great deal of skill but as we pick our way through that summary, these aspects are distinctly different from how we would define leadership.
How is leadership different to management?
The first thing to clarify is that leadership and management do not have to be set as opposing concepts. The words are often used interchangeably and although we think this is inaccurate, it is entirely understandable as we emerge from a working world where leadership is often sought from people in management roles. However, we believe they are different things.
You can be a leader without being a manager. You can be a manager without being a leader. In many cases over the course of history we have examples of people being a leader and a manager. It would be helpful to entirely detach these two things and just look at them independently but unfortunately, in the context of modern business and organisations, we cannot. Well, not easily.
Here, we attempt to clarify what the differences might be between leadership and management.
1. NOW vs FUTURE
When we refer to leadership being about direction, a journey and with destinations in mind, we frame it as being anchored in the future. That is not to say it does not manifest in the here and now, but it is largely preoccupied with what comes next and what needs to change for that to be positive.
Management is usually more focused on the business as it is operating, having a plan for what we know we are dealing with and getting the best out of what is here today.
2. ADMINISTRATES vs INNOVATES
In a ‘now’ context, management is often charged with increasing the predictability of work and acting within the social norms of the organisation to get a reliable outcome from the known variables.
Leadership is often charged with creating meaning that may lead to change in collective behaviour and culture. Establishing new ways of doing things for the future benefit of the business rather than being effective in today’s environment.
3. HOW & WHEN vs WHAT & WHY
Leaders are likely to be consumed by exploring what we are doing and why we are doing it. Coupled with being future-oriented and change-led, leaders emerge typically looking for reason and aligning action to meet reason.
Managers are more often consumed with how we are going to get it done and by when. Coupled with a now-focus and effort targeted at operational excellence, managers look to make the best use of resources and deliver in a timely manner.
4. CONTROL vs AUTONOMY
Managers have a structured supervisory element to their role, ensuring those who report to them are doing as instructed and that there is a controlled process involved for monitoring and evaluating that work. Managers carry authority of role and process to get things done in an organised way.
Leaders look for opportunities to create more autonomous ways of working and provide direction and inspiration to guide the right course of action.
Our thoughts on management border on a version of transactional leadership – focused on accomplishing the tasks at hand and on maintaining good working relationships by exchanging promises of rewards for performance. This is where the use of leadership and management start to get somewhat tangled but to be clear, for a business to be successful, an effective organisation needs relevant leadership AND management. Therefore, these are the more useful set of questions for you to be asking now.
What kind of leadership approach is useful for your business?
How does leadership contribute to the effectiveness of your organisation? What leadership skills are the most relevant for achieving your goals? What leadership behaviours set the tone for the way in which you expect your organisation to behave?
How can you assess your leadership skills and behaviours?
Do you have the right data to be able to do this? Do you have the right capabilities to make an accurate and objective assessment?
How can you develop relevant leadership skills and behaviours?
If you know the gap between what is needed and what you have, how are you closing that gap?
We are passionate about the critical role that leadership plays in any organisation and the necessity of relevant leadership skills and behaviours in developing the most effective organisation. We define leadership to be something different to management – not better, just different – but understand why and how these two words get used interchangeably.
Irrespective of an academic debate about their meaning, the more important distinction to make is in application. Consider how leadership might be different to management in your organisation and consider them both in need of some attention to ensure your organisation is fit for today but has the health to renew and adapt to what is yet to come.
Barrow, J. C. (1977) ‘The Variables of Leadership’, Academy of Management Review (2) 231-251.
Northouse, P. (2010) Leadership: Theory and Practice (5th ed.). Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, Sage.
Yukl, G. (2006) Leadership in Organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Blackmore Four are a management consulting company, offering specialist advice and tailored solutions to businesses looking to sustain or improve the effectiveness of their organisation. Our approach is based on a deep understanding of human behaviour at work and an ability to identify and address the specific leadership and organisation development needs of your business. We work with ambitious business leaders to achieve outstanding levels of performance through periods of growth or significant change.