I sometimes get commissioned to deliver development for managers, i.e. delivering facilitated learning for people with ‘manager’ in their job title. But I don’t consider myself to be in the business of management development. I do however accept that one area on my work might be called leadership development. So, what is the difference between management and leadership? Google this nugget and you’ll get a bundle of different answers.
At the risk of adding to the confusion, here’s my simple definition. The leadership definition might surprise you:
- Management is the act of overseeing a process
- Leadership is the power to organise ideas into action.
In an organisational context, the processes managers oversee are often referred to as business processes. In manufacturing, business processes turn inputs into outputs. This concept can be extended to business processes in other sectors – there will always be some form of inputs (data, designs, resources) and the process turns these into outputs that customers want (information, products, services).
Leadership is the power to organise ideas into action; the power to change. Deepak Chopra argues this power derives from a combination of creativity, the seed of an idea for the future, and the desire to enact it. The desire to enact it requires organisation. Such organisation requires you pay attention to the present to make your intention a future reality. This is the essence of organisation, the essence of leadership.
Can I be both?
Yes, you can. In fact, anybody can be a leader.
I argue that the desire to enact a future intention, coupled with the capability to make it happen is all you need to be considered a leader. You do not need a job title. In an organisational context, the future intention is called a vision.
There are only three levels of hierarchy in any organisation: strategic leaders, operational (or service) leaders and individuals. Everything else is fluff to justify job titles, pay grades and HR functions.
- At the individual contribution level, you are a leader if you choose to do something that aligns to the vision, then make it happen
- At the operational/service leader level, you are a leader if you organise others to deliver the activities that deliver the vision. You probably have ‘supervisor’ or ‘manager’ in your job title, or perhaps ‘head of…’
- At the strategic leader level, you are a leader if you organise the whole system to deliver the vision (the whole system comprises things like strategy, operations, people, structures, planning and performance mechanisms, engagement and team culture).
Leadership development at any level is about developing the Four Cs of Leadership
The skills and experience you need at each level are different, and depend on the organisation, the nature of its business and the scale of the activities in which you are involved.
But the leadership behaviours are uncannily similar across organisations, industries and sectors. And they relate to the power to organise ideas into action. Four elements must be present:
- Commitment to the idea itself – the commitment to a vision
- Competence, i.e. the ability to act – the leader must be good at some aspect of the activity in which they are engaged, and must be able to organise themselves to make progress towards that vision
- Communication – though not explicit in my definition, the vision and the steps needed to move towards it must be articulated to influence and mobilise others
- Change orientation – whereas management is about overseeing a defined process, which is fundamentally about stability, the leader must embrace change to make the vision a reality.
These are the Four Cs of Leadership. You can build your leadership capability by considering the extent to which each of these is fundamentally embedded and working effectively within your organisation.
Jeremy J Lewis