Leadership vs Management

There are leaders and there are managers…and they are both, in my experience, very VERY different things.

During my career I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to attend several courses offering to teach me how to, not only manage people, but also to lead them.  Frustratingly, having begun to attend some of them, I soon discovered that these in-house courses were all ‘cut-down’ and ‘bastardised’ versions of what had clearly once been much longer, and more thorough sessions.  And, in my humble opinion, they often ended up missing the point that had clearly once been aimed for before cut backs and trainer apathy had eventually sucked any interest or relevance from them.  This is terribly sad as the delivering of the skills needed to appropriately support the management of people and, moreover, the leading of people, should surely be something that trainers and organisations alike should strive passionately to achieve.  After all, not doing this, is very much a false economy.

Unfortunately in the organisation that I work for these training inputs have become more and more diluted and the development and imparting of such skills seems to have now become something that barely registers on my employers’ radar.  This has obviously been one of the contributing factors to greater employee absences from work due to sickness and a higher number of people suffering from stress and depression.  And, even for those who have taken these management courses in the past, some seem to have taken nothing from them as they impose their own inherently negative and personally motivated regimes onto others who simply want to come in, keep their heads down and just get on with their jobs.

The other frustration within my role and my organisation is that, though my employer expects me to ensure better employee morale and to harness greater workloads from them, it rarely supports me to achieve these goals and in fact at times my employer even seems to place obstacles in front of me such that the reaching of these goals wouldn’t even be possible on paper let alone in practice.

We moved some years ago from a welfare model to a business model.  Our Officers became Managers and even our logos and traditions were dumbed down.  The pride I once had in my role has long since died and now I merely come into work in order to pay my mortgage and to reduce my sentence until I am allowed to retire.  Yes, I’ve heard the argument that “If you don’t like it you can leave” but the flippancy of such remarks are not lost on me.  To simply up-sticks and change careers after having given over twenty years of service is not an easy task nor a financially viable one.  But not dwelling on any of this too much is something I have to work on as it genuinely saddens me and reminds me that perhaps this career path was a mistake and that I have maybe risked my own health and safety too often and given up too much for this organisation.  Though this sounds like I am digressing this brings me neatly back to leadership and management.  I have become so disillusioned, not just because of changes in working conditions and pension contracts but also because I am no longer led by the people I work for.  I am merely managed.  My organisation, which professes to be proactive is now clearly reactive in everything that it does and, instead of being led by people that we can look up to, we are now often merely managed and often by people who have no interest in their staff or their staff’s needs.

I have had to look after two teams in my career so far, one office-based and one operational and, I hope, I think I did a pretty good job in both roles.  Why?  Well partly because I looked to two people I had been “led” by in the past and who’s styles and work ethics I admired but also because I watched so many people around me managing and ‘leading’ badly that it was easy for me to see what they did wrong and to then avoid doing it in my role as a manager.  For example, I’ve learned never to use training as a punishment.  There have been times in the past when I have been part of a team and have been threatened with being required to sit through training lectures or drills, not as part of our development, but instead as a punishment.  This merely led to me switching off from the training and began to associate training with being punished which meant that when good trainers who were passionate about their subjects tried to develop me it took them longer to break through the barriers I had put up for myself.

So what is the difference between management and leadership and can you really be taught how to become either of these things?  Well, the simple answer is that management is something that can be taught in many ways as it often involves following procedures and guidance laid down to ensure that employees are developed, supported and kept safe as, really, a manager’s role is to share out workloads, confirm these works are being carried out, ensure work deadlines are being met, ensure employee development etc.  Now, anyone can do this of course and anyone can be taught to do this.  How well they actually do this though is another story all together…and this is where leadership comes in.  Leadership is something that can’t be taught in a lesson.  It can’t be faked and it should not be a skill that is underestimated.

So, anyone can manage.  And though there are differing standards of management and a world of different styles anyone can actually manage.  However, few are able to lead.  And the truth is this, not all managers can lead and not all of those who lead are even managers.

I have only actually been ‘led’ by a couple of my managers in the past but have found myself being ‘led’ by some of my peers too.  Being led involves being inspired by a person.  It means knowing that that person will not just listen to you but will also hear you.  A leader doesn’t hit you with a big stick when you’re unable to grasp something they’re trying to teach you but instead looks to themselves first to ensure that they’re teaching you correctly.  A leader doesn’t just tell you to do something, they ask you…and sometimes, the really good leaders even get their hands dirty and actually show you what they want you to do.  A good leader doesn’t have to even be in the building to ensure their staff are working correctly.  A good leader’s team will work hard for them regardless…out of respect.  As soon as a manager is out of the room on the other hand, the pace of work will often drop, conduct will slacken and interest wane.

Management often hits people with a big stick.  This is a tactic that my employers, and most of their managers, have used for as long as I’ve worked for them.  For example, a person needs to take special leave or is slightly late…and then is late again…and again…and the next thing you know a directive comes out saying that if anyone is found to be late in future or that if anyone misuses the special leave facility they will be disciplined.  The plus side to this tactic, as far as management is concerned, is that they haven’t had to get their hands dirty by confronting the individual responsible for abusing the system with the issue.  The down side is that that individual doesn’t actually get his or her conduct appropriately addressed so doesn’t realise that they were even necessarily the cause of the issue and also that all of the people who weren’t abusing the system and that have now had the facility taken away from them through no fault of their own are now left feeling undervalued and their good conduct unrecognised.

The thing is, leadership is about developing people, caring for them, supporting them, listening to them, engaging with them such that these big sticks are never needed and, even when a good leader has to bring out a big stick, the employee knows that they’ve let their leader and themselves down and will often accept the discipline without dispute.

Leadership is not just about being a manager, it’s about being a decent human being.  It’s about consistently setting a good example.  It’s about sometimes taking ownership of others’ problems or battles in order to deflect attacks away from the team and to redirect them at yourself.

All too often I hear of colleagues’ disabilities being ignored or their needs being railroaded over because of someone’s own fragile ego or not-very-well-hidden selfish agenda.  I have seen colleagues forced to go long term sick with stress as their development has been ignored to such a degree that when they are placed in stressful positions of responsibility they are not equipped with the skills needed to carry out their tasks without making mistakes.  Management then promptly disciplines or confronts that person for their inability to carry out the task but doesn’t actually acknowledge that the employer has failed to develop the individual or that there might be an underlying issue that requires long term support.

I myself have even been involved with what my employer tries to convince us is genuine staff engagement whilst I have known that the ‘proposed’ cuts or changes that they are discussing with us have already been agreed and approved behind closed doors.  This just leaves me feeling disillusioned and my professional opinion underappreciated.

Sadly my employers stopped leading me and my colleagues a long-long time ago and have now fallen back into merely managing us.  And this is unfortunate as, it is in my experience, that the more you lead people, the less you have to manage them.  It’s a very basic equation.  More leadership, less management.  Considering what has happened in our organisation over the last few years, and indeed what is very likely to come over the coming years, I see a lot more management needed by our leaders…managers.blog-0046-picture-2

As always, if anyone has any comments please feel free to leave them here.  Alternatively you can contact me via email with any questions at: ned@thewayofthesquirrelbooks.com.

Though there are several subjects that I could blog about my employer, including bullying, lack of development, and institutionally rife discrimination, my employer has strict guidelines forbidding me from discussing issues within social media (hence why I have not named them here).  As a consequence I have decided to instead write a book on the subject which I will publish at a later date.