‘Leadership is at its best when its vision is strategic, the voice persuasive and the results tangible. In the study of leadership, an exact definition is not essential but guiding concepts are needed’. Useem1
Establishing a single definition of leadership has its challenges:
- Leadership has many contexts: from political, military, business, sports and culture, right through every level and section of society, our communities and families
- We all have our individual experiences and expectations of leadership: from vision and inspiration to serving others or power and control
- Views on what effective leadership is have evolved over time e.g. from issuing orders to inspiring and empowering
- Successful leadership is defined by the situation e.g. Winston Churchill is not viewed as a particularly successful peacetime leader. Also, it is often remarked that the leadership styles and strengths of CEOs employed in a crisis to ‘turnaround’ failing organizations are very different to those needed to grow them.
At its most basic, leadership in an organization can be defined as influencing others to achieve the organization’s goals and deliver its vision.
Many writers have observed however, that in order to inspire and motivate people to achieve these goals, the goals themselves need to be viewed as ‘worthwhile’ or for some greater purpose. Delivering the organization’s goals needs to deliver a benefit to customers, the community or society that is viewed as worthwhile.
Define Leadership - What is leadership?
Leadership is not an end in itself, but a means to bring out the best in people, to inspire and motivate them to commit their energies, skills and talents to delivering the organization’s vision.
As leadership is focused on the Vision it is all about the 'future' focus. Leadership seeks to find new opportunities for individuals and the organization to be a success in the future . That might mean dealing first with very difficult situations that threatened survival today. In tackling those threats leadership still seeks to create the better future and seize opportunities.
As leadership tackles the future it needs to empower and harness the capability and potential of the people and other resources which can come together to make that future.
To make the future and vision a reality and create and siee new opportunities leadership is about delivering successful and useful change.
In all of that a key message is that leadership is all about behaviours that take the people and organisation to a new future.
In making change work Leadership influences the behaviour and actions of others.
Modern views of leadership have moved away from influence using authority, position, command and control, to a focus on influencing by:
- Relating to and connecting with people
- Building trust
- Motivating, inspiring and empowering people
- Creating a compelling vision of the future
- Communicating that vision in a way that builds commitment to it
- Role modelling honesty and integrity.
One important footnote here is to recognise that Leadership is a set of competencies and should not be thought as a particular personality trait or perceived charisma.
Leadership and Management
It is very important to get to grips with the fact that Leadership is different from Management. Quite simply they are not the same.
Unfortunately common language and parlance in business and the use of organisational titles like 'Leader' and 'Manager' add to the confusion about Leadership itself and Management itself.
This means than when looking to improve your 'leadership' or 'management' skills and capabilities you must first stop using the terms as 'the same thing' or interchangeably and recognise differences. This differentiation allows you to focus to the specifics needed to enhance capability and performance in each area.
The other issue to get to grips with is the use of the terms 'leaders' or 'manager' to refer to different layers in an organisation i.e. 'the leadership did x, y, z...' meaning those in the top positions did 'x,y,z...'. Just because a person is at a certain level does not mean they are a 'Leader'. They will require different 'leadership' and 'management' skills in their position to be effective. This is true of all positions as 'leadership' and 'management' will exist at all levels.
Considering the contrast between leadership and management provides another way to arrive at a definition of leadership.
As with leadership, there is no single definition of management. Some common themes around management include:
- Getting work done through other people to achieve stated objectives
- Planning, organizing, leading and controlling - Fayol’s Management Functions
- Clarifying objectives, problem solving, planning work, managing resources, organizing and co-ordinating activity, measuring and controlling performance
Management is a complex set of interrelated skills and difficult to execute successfully in a sustained manner.
Management in many ways seeks to ensure an organisation can deliver consistently and predictably and produces outputs, products and services that meet the customers needs for quality, at the costs required, within the budget time and time again. With the complex nature of organisations today, their complex structures and supply chains delivering this consistent performance in changing worlds and markets in not easy.
Going to back to Leadership we see it is more closely associated with:
- Creating a vision for the future and
- Communicating it, as well as the strategy or direction that needs to be taken to achieve it to people in a such way that they will support it, commit to it and are motivated to achieve it.
and Management with:
- Planning and budgeting
- Delivering quality to meet customers defined requirements and targets
- Minimising waste
- Delivery consistency
- Delivering against budget
- Delivery to plan
- Organising resources, staff, jobs and systems.
- Measuring, monitoring and reporting performance.
- Problem solving to ensure the targets are met and changing conditions are tackled.
all aimed at consistently delivering to the plan and budget and tackling issues as they arise.
Of course, skilled management is required to plan, co-ordinate and control the activities and resources required in order to implement the vision.
Sources of confusion
Another source of confusion is some writers that write about 'Management' include Leadership as a subset. This takes the grand view as that 'Management' is all a 'Leader' or 'Manager' does and is the overarching concept.
This view of 'management' being the overarching concept is sometimes viewed as useful by some practitioner managers and others that see the need to distinguish between Leadership and Management as purely an academic exercise with which they get bored.
Unfortunately this argument can distract from the fact that there are Leadership competencies and Management Competencies and most roles individuals perform require some of both. However, the emphasis and strength of need for each set will vary considerably depending on the job you are doing, the situation and the needs of the customers. stakeholders and organization.
Understanding the difference between the skill sets and their focus and impact is useful in helping peopel obtain and develop these competencies and impact their organisations, others around them and their own careers in the most impactful manner.
People versus things
Another focus is the people element of leadership as Miller et al make the following distinction between leadership and management:
‘Management involves using human, equipment and information resources to achieve various objectives. On the other hand, leadership focuses on getting things done through others. Thus you manage things (budgets, procedures and so on), but you lead people.’2
Whilst this can help with the mental view of the two areas of Leadership and Management it can confuse people 'on the ground' as they say 'I manage people' as well as 'I lead people'.
Leadership and management are closely related and it is not easy to distinguish them as separate activities in some situations hence the confusions which can occur.
Today’s organizations are complex and need to be able to respond to increasing economic, market and competitive pressures.
To succeed, they need effective management to control and improve performance, processes and systems and effective leadership: to align their people to the organization’s vision and motivate them to want to give their best to achieve it.
Leadership involves a set of executed competencies that define a better future, seize and creates opportunities and new models and inspire, enable and empower other people to commit to delivering it. It sees the changes needed and makes and delivers the transition from now to the new future with all is processes, systems, resources and people.
Management involves a set of executed competencies that plan, budget, controls and co-ordinates the resources, people, processes, systems and activities that will make those plans a reality and then deliver consistently the goals and targets required dealing with problems along the way.
Leadership and management can exist at any level in an organization within any specific role reqgardless of the roles title.
Roles will vary in the depth, breadth and complexity of the Leadership/Management combination of competencies that need to be exhibited and executed in a successful manner.
To develop these competencies (Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge and Behaviours) it is best to see Leadership and Management as separate competency/skill domains which are then used by an individual according to the organisation and role requirements, the situation/opportunities they face, the role they are in and their own capabilities and abilities.
Related: From Management To Leadership
Leadership Skills and Qualities
Being a successful leader depends not only on your qualities and skills, but also on the needs and expectations of the people you lead and the needs of the situation itself. Understanding yourself and others will help you understand and respond more effectively to these needs and expectations.
Continue to Understanding Yourself and Others
Continue to Leadership Theories, Styles and Approaches
Continue to Leadership Skills and Qualities
Continue to Leadership Competency Frameworks
1Useem, M. ‘How to Groom Leaders of the Future’ in Pickford, J. (ed.) Financial Times Mastering Management 2.0, Financial Times Prentice Hall (2001)
2Miller, D.S., Catt, S.E. and Carlson, J.R. ‘Fundamentals of Management: A Framework for Excellence’, West Publishing (1996)