Leadership: Leader or manager?

Just what is the difference between leadership and management? Each requires different skills and attributes, but both are needed in a successful charity, says consultant Elaine Willis.

A recent job advertisement sought a candidate to be "an inspirational leader who will manage our organisation". What would your expectations be of such a person's qualities, skills and experience?

There has been an increasing emphasis of late on leadership, and everyone from community groups to the top 20 charities cites it as an essential part of achieving success. But what does it mean?

Just as the sector has been grappling with management issues associated with the so-called 'professionalisation' of the sector, leadership has emerged as a central concern. When I was working in the voluntary sector in the 80s, there were gasps at an annual lecture on volunteering when the presenter spoke of 'managing' volunteers; they had always been 'coordinated' before. Now it is accepted there is a volunteer manager role and a set of recognised competences associated with performing that role. Leadership of volunteering is a hot topic.

So how should we think of leadership and management in relation to each other, and does clarity matter? One school of thought - currently losing the debate - separates leadership from management, broadly calling the latter a subset of the former; the other links them inextricably.

The rationale behind the first school of thought is that some people are more naturally suited to management, others are more suited to leadership. It assumes a hierarchy in which leadership belongs to those at 'the top' and management is carrying out the wishes of the leader.

On this basis, personality rates more highly than competences, opinions count for more than evidence of performance and being born with certain characteristics - which have traditionally included gender, racial and class characteristics - is essential.

As management theory has developed, however, it has become accepted that leadership skills are part of the mix needed by managers and are critical when it comes to change management. In turn, there has been more and more interest in leadership, not just of those who - in name - lead the organisation, but by those who work at all levels within it.

The current dominant school of thought sees leadership and management as inextricably linked, so much so that commentators are beginning to talk about the need to develop a 'culture of leadership' in organisations - a shared enterprise of leading the way.

The debate about whether leaders are born or created has moved on to the acknowledgement that leadership skills can be learned and developed. Today, an effective and enlightened leader is seen as 'visionary' - that is, invested with the ability to motivate and inspire - 'purposeful' in their capacity to set direction and 'success-defining'.

In other words, they are able to outline what others should achieve. The model of 'command and control', with a leader 'up front', has changed to one of 'leading from the midst' and 'sharing the way'.

So what are the links between leadership and management? Most commentary on leadership emphasises a set of associated behaviours. In their A Manager's Guide to Leadership, Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell define seven key practices or behaviours associated with leadership, including 'leading yourself'.

The best leaders are those, they say, who are self-aware, know their own life stories and are able to manage their weaknesses and make the most of strengths. Another behaviour is the ability to ask challenging questions, because, as the authors point out, "it is through critical questions that purpose and direction is found".

Writer and management consultant Peter Drucker says that "the task of the non-profit manager is to try to convert the organisation's mission into specifics". That is, to work towards the organisation's goals using its resources in an effective and efficient manner.

Managers exercise a set of skills - planning, organising resources, coordinating activities, leading or directing to achieve performance - each of which has a subset of skills. All managers have to work with and through others to achieve their goals, which is why well-developed skills and confidence are essential.

Almost all management schools of thought define a range of styles associated with 'doing' management. Whatever the list, the important thing is to be able to exercise a range of styles, not just keep to the ones in the comfort zone.

What qualities, skills and experience would I seek in the candidate referred to earlier? I have met and been in the presence of leaders who are inspirational, but so way out in front that they forget to come back for the rest of us. And there are many managers whom I have never heard speak of exercising any leadership, so prepossessed are they with objective setting and task and team management.

What the sector really needs - and in some places already has - is enlightened and emotionally intelligent leaders with accomplished management know-how, managers who are not afraid to exercise leadership and are allowed to lead. They will make the sector more dynamic, engaging and innovative. After all, isn't this why the sector exists?

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