Saturday, 29 November 2014

Leadership and management, how different are these?

One of the major concerns, arguably the major concern, of today’s employers is to ensure their companies the appropriate level of leadership. Apparently, organizations are relentlessly trying to pursue this objective, but its attainment is indeed revealing to be in practice a sorely difficult feat. Companies at large are finding it extremely difficult to recruit externally or develop from within effective, strong leaders insofar as leadership can really be considered as the Holy Grail of the modern business world.
During the last decades, many Authors have plead the case in favour of a marked distinction between leadership and management adducing a plethora of arguments essentially aiming at confining management to administrative and executory tasks and elevating leadership to the sublime.

Are habitually defined leaders those who have followers, offer a vision and set direction,   facilitate decisions, are charismatic, use their heart, are proactive, influence others by selling, like striving, take risks and break the rules, use conflict, are concerned about what is right, give credit and take the blame. By contrast, managers are supposed to have subordinates, seek objectives, plan details, make decisions, use their formal authority and their head, are reactive, persuade by telling, like action, minimize  risks, make and are compliant to rules, avoid conflict, are concerned with being right, take credit and blame the others.
These distinctive features, differently typifying and characterizing leadership and management, are habitually used by those who advocate the existence of a clear divide between management and leadership to support this idea and stress the worth of leadership to the detriment of management.

The significance of the features associated with leadership and which should thus characterize good, strong leaders are self-evident. Since these aspects are directly concerned with the organizations’ human capital, whether employers could count on a relatively large number of people in possess of these features, these would undeniably find it relatively easier to attain competitive edge. The need for organizations to avail themselves of individuals having these valuable and remarkable characteristics is hence totally justified.

The problem with leadership and more in particular with its habitually alleged complete separation from management, relates to the confusion this distinction risks generating. Depicting managers and leaders as having two completely different characteristics and objectives might induce to believe that the roles of leader and manager actually relate to two different posts. Their activities and missions are indeed not mutually exclusive; by contrast, in every organization these should ideally coincide as a matter of course. The term “leader” is in fact mainly used to refer to a person’s qualities and features, it does not represent a job title which can be included as such in the grading and pay system of an organization.
Irrespective of the circumstance that one may believe that leadership is an inborn, rather than a learnable feature, its idea is not associated with technical skills, but rather with a set of personal qualities. A distinctive feature whose practical manifestation emerges from the way a person behaves, approaches difficult situations, the relationships with others and his/her job.


Employers cannot afford to recruit leaders and managers as if these were two different roles to be covered within their business; otherwise the role of managers would not only be drastically emptied but would also make no practical sense. Employers need managers who are and act as leaders: individuals capable to provide their staff a vision, and influence, induce and enhance employee engagement and motivation. Leaders should ultimately be nothing else than good effectual managers.

In an organization it is habitually possible to distinguish four main categories of employees, namely the shop floor, professionals, managers (from mid- to senior-) and executives (board included). Leaders can be actually identified at all the levels of the organizational hierarchy. The leaders included in the mid- to upper-scale of the organizational order are usually known as formal leaders, whereas those belonging to the shop floor and professional categories (or more in general those not covering any management role) are usually termed informal leaders. All of these individuals, like the other employees, are clearly filling a specific role and position within the business; the difference is that these individuals, albeit not having an official managerial authority, have followers and the capability to influence their colleagues, whereas the others, formally appointed managers included, do not.


As a general rule, employers should not underestimate the significance of the support and contribution which informal leaders can respectively give and make to organizational success and should hence try to approach and ally with these, rather than consider them as a threat.

The fact that the current management may show not to have the leadership abilities the employer would have expected and desired these to have should not really come as a surprise. Individuals are different one another; yet, at times individuals can differently interpret the role of manager. The real problem may not be posed by the fact that managers are not good strong leaders; it may rather be caused by the circumstance that employers use to appoint as managers people before assessing whether these are already or have the potential to evolve into good, strong leaders. Once the wrong choice has been made it is obviously extremely tricky for employers to go back so that these cannot do nothing else than shoulder the cost for their wrong decision and try and control the likely negative consequences.


Executives and directors should definitely pay much more attention to the way managers are identified before these are formally appointed. By establishing clear practices and introducing sound and effective assessment methodologies HR can clearly effectually support all the organizational functions in the process, where appropriate availing itself of the contribution of external consultancies.
Leadership should ideally not be a commodity common to a restricted and limited number of executives and managers; at a predetermined satisfactory level, all of the managers of every organization should ideally possess leadership abilities. On a daily basis employees are in constant contact with their line managers, it is with them that these mainly interact and it is hence by these and their behaviour that they are influenced the most.

It cannot be a priori excluded that some managers might occasionally find it easier managing rather than leading by reason of being extremely busy with their daily tasks. During hectic periods, managers might find it preferable, that is, more practical having recourse to traditionally labelled managerial approaches to the detriment of the leadership ones. For instance, telling rather than selling and holding the existing road rather than taking a new one may be preferred by managers under some circumstances to ensure that the pre-set deadline is met.

This may clearly not invariably be the case, but employers should also take into due consideration the circumstances under which managers work on a daily basis in order to properly evaluate, assess and judge their leadership abilities. The reference is not here to situational or contingent leadership, but rather to the particular circumstances and time constraints which may account for managers being prompted and consequently decide to manage more and lead less. At times managers might hardly perceive of having been recruited for their leadership abilities and that their work is actually that of being a leader. Individuals covering management roles, especially during periods of economic downturn and slowdown, are possibly supposed that their employer just want them to yield the expected results, and hence focus on and personally strive to attain the pre-set objectives.

Before and in lieu of complaining about the scarce level of leadership showed by their managers, criticism however completely justified, CEOs, directors and executives should first and foremost show to be good and strong leaders themselves. These can hardly assume that their subordinates may have the qualities and capabilities they should excel in the most, whether they do not. It is very unlikely that whether executives and directors were good leaders these would have not positively influenced the way their reports, that is to say the business managers, behave. Especially at management level it is sorely common to see individuals tending to emulate and follow the example of their bosses, to wit: executives and directors. Despite some managers may have some inborn leadership features these might feel prompted to change their instinctive behaviour and give these up, whether resulting in open contrast with the leadership or management style used by their superiors. In the first instance, the real leadership abilities facilitators are in fact managers and executives at all levels.

The quest for the Holy Grail is still underway, but it is important for employers to have clear what they are seeking and when and where to better search.

Longo, R., (2014), Leadership and management, how different are these?; Milan: HR Professionals, [online].