Muir.gray, 13 March 2012 http://bit.ly/17nhozv
Leadership has become very fashionable and the number of books and papers on leadership increase all the time. So, what is leadership and how does it differ from management? This is not an easy question to answer because, as always happens, the more widely a term is used, the more meanings it acquires. One of the most influential writers on leadership emphasises this problem:
“There is no one correct definition of leadership, or any one set of personal qualities or competencies that characterise leaders.” (1)
One approach to differentiating leadership and management is to define management as primarily concerned with the running of an operation. In the excellent book Trying Hardest Is Not Good Enough – a very important book for everyone involved in healthcare, even though it is primarily about education – Mark Friedman says that management is “the day to day, month to month running of operations”. Leadership is more than that. John Kotter, another very influential writer, distinguishes the two clearly:
“Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects of management include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.” (2)
There are probably two features of the work of the leader that are crucial. One is that the leader has to help people adapt to bad news, to reframe their view of the world and to help them overcome significant problems. The other is that the leader is primarily responsible for shaping the culture of the organisation, whereas the manager works within the culture.
“Five common themes have emerged that capture the essence of leadership: visioning, creating a culture of shared values, strategy forming and implementation, empowerment of people, and influence, motivation and inspiration…[The] ability to perceive the limitations of one’s own culture and to develop the culture adaptively is the essence and ultimate challenge of leadership.” (1)
In the words of the writer who is most highly-regarded on culture, Edgar Schein, the role of shaping culture is of fundamental importance. In fact he said it was one of the defining tasks:
“When we examine culture and leadership closely, we see that they are two sides of the same coin; neither can really be understood by itself. If one wishes to distinguish leadership from management or administration, one can argue that leadership creates and changes cultures, while management and administration act within a culture.” (3)
How does a leader go about shaping culture? One obvious approach is by their own personality and how they behave. However, the culture itself is determined by the way people think and therefore by the language they use. If one went into a healthcare organisation as a new leader and found that no one understood the word ‘value’, or that everybody was using the word in a different way, one of the leader’s first jobs would be to define the word and ensure that everyone used it in a common way.
The active management of language and concepts plays a crucial part in the shaping of culture and therefore in leadership. To this end, we will be delivering podcasts on key terms and key books, specially selected for the FMLM, in our ‘Concepts of Leadership’ series available on this website.