Leadership: Hands-on, or visionary?

Amanda Jacobs talks to three senior staff in the UK charity sector to discover what they think are the key differences between managers and leaders - and which of the two they consider themselves to be.

- SHEILA BROWN OBE, co-founder and chief executive of children's birth defects charity BDF Newlife

Because Sheila Brown has been with BDF Newlife from its very beginning, she is inclined to see herself more as a leader. She feels a "psychological ownership" of the charity, she says.

Since she founded BDF Newlife in 1991, Brown has been moving the organisation towards growth and change. "That's what I do," she says. "I change things."

Indeed, she believes the two main duties of leaders are creating change for the future and providing inspiration in the present. "As a leader, it's my job to inspire people and set some standards," she says. "It's also about setting a strategic plan for the future. You have to look forward all the time."

She reckons that successful chief executives combine leadership and managerial qualities, with the relative strengths of those characteristics depending on the organisation concerned. "You have to be a mix," she says, "but not necessarily an equal mix."

Brown, who sees herself as 70 per cent leader, 30 per cent manager, believes that managers are responsible for achieving the best outcomes from organisations' strategies.

She thinks the voluntary sector could benefit from more leaders, but says that finding them may not be easy.

"Management skills are something you can learn and develop," she says. "Leadership is about who you are, about your personality. Not everyone is a leader."

- JOHN NEATE, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity

John Neate oscillates between two personality types in psychometric assessments: the frank, decisive, natural leader, and someone who is practical and detail-oriented. This reinforces his perception of himself as a combination of leader and manager.

"If I didn't have a really good grasp of what it means to implement change and decisions, and thus of good management, the Prostate Cancer Charity wouldn't be able to grow effectively," he says. "If I couldn't see the big picture, have the vision, take us all in that direction and be persistent, we wouldn't be able to grow either."

Throughout his five years at the charity, Neate's position has required him to act as both a leader and a manager. When the charity went through the process of becoming fully independent from Hammersmith Hospital, where it was founded, he had to maintain a clear vision and work through difficult changes. Similarly, the charity's rapid growth has made it necessary for him to focus on managing its infrastructure.

Although Neate sees a distinction between leadership and management qualities, he believes it is often oversimplified. "There are very inspirational leaders and very good managers, but a lot of people are capable of being both," he says.

In fact, he believes practising both leadership and management is essential. "Leadership inspiration is great, but without good underpinning in terms of implementing change, it's so much froth," he says. "Equally, management by itself is dead if it can't lift the organisation to where it needs to be."

- CAPTAIN MICHAEL GORDON-LENNOX, RN, chairman of St Dunstan's, the charity that helps blind ex-forces personnel

As chairman of its board of trustees, Michael Gordon-Lennox believes it would be inappropriate for him to manage St Dunstan's. He considers himself to be more of a leader.

He sees his job as facilitating communication between the board and the rest of the charity and making sure the organisation is doing what it is supposed to be doing. He is not responsible for everyday, hands-on management tasks.

Gordon-Lennox does not believe leadership is preferable to management or vice versa. He says: "You've got to have someone in the lead, but someone has to be managing the details as well."

A chief executive must be able to serve as both a leader and a manager, he adds, especially in the voluntary sector, where resources can be limited.

But Gordon-Lennox does believe there are differences between management and leadership. "Management is almost a mechanical process, whereas leadership is more a human-oriented thing," he says.

In his opinion, management skills can be taught from a book, but leadership cannot. "Leadership involves having to get up, walk the job and lead the organisation in the direction you want it to go rather than just sitting in your office managing the processes."

Whether an individual serves as a leader or a manager depends on that person and what works best for his or her position, he concludes. "It's very much a question of personality."

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