Every endeavor that involves two or more people will require leadership to be provided if it is to be successful. Families, communities, businesses, and governments require leadership if they are to flourish. Leadership, which has always been needed and will always be needed, shall be our subject today.
Management and Leadership: One of the first confusions that people have is in trying to understand the difference(s) between management and leadership. First to be aware of is that there is a wide overlap between the roles and responsibilities of managers and leaders. However, there are also differences of purpose, approach, and emphasis. Let us try to understand by contrasting them.
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Up to the beginning of the industrial age, collective human activities were initiated and ‘managed’ by individuals who were essentially leaders (even if their specific roles and approaches varied due to differences in their responsibilities). From heads of business associations to spiritual leaders, military leaders and Kings, leadership was bestowed on the strength of the competence and character and, sometimes, birthrights of individuals. With the advent of the industrial age, the need for ‘professionals’ that can enhance efficiency and productivity by managing resources and processes became imperative. This led to the demand for trained managers or the ‘organisation man’. However, the obsession with the training of more managers over the last sixty years, I would say, has contributed, rather unwittingly, to the loss of focus on developing true leadership skills. Thankfully, there is an emerging renaissance on leadership training as a result globalisation, information overload, and ethical and environmental considerations.
Essentially, a manager is a person with technical skills, knowledge and/or expertise that coordinates activities to achieve immediate and short-term goals by working with others that they closely supervise directly or indirectly. Management, the role of the manager, is about managing resources through planning and carrying out tasks for the purposes of achieving set goals. The functions of management are typically conducted in formal organisations, even as they are beneficial to informal settings, too. According to one school of thought, the functions of management are planning, organising, staffing, directing, and controlling. Managers might be generalists but are usually experts with good knowledge and skills that enable them to guide their workers daily.
Leadership, on the other hand, is about the capacity of an individual, the leader, to influence and inspire others towards achieving major objectives. Leadership is fundamentally about visioning, setting direction/strategy that managers and other followers will willingly carry out. Leadership is also about getting others to be passionate about long-term objectives and committed to the day-to-day grind of working towards those objectives whilst the leader gives them reasonable operational space. Leaders must have the foresight, knowledge, and charisma to get people motivated towards objectives that may seem far into the horizon. Successful leaders are emotionally intelligent people that understand their followers well, set high ethical and moral standards for them, and generally shape group cultures.
Beyond being emotionally brilliant, a good leader becomes great if they also have the technical skills of a good manager. Conversely, beyond being technically competent, a good manager becomes great if they also have the emotional intelligence of a good leader.
Benefits of Leadership: Leadership is required in all social spheres and at all levels of formal and informal organisations. Some benefits of leadership include:
• Leadership helps set a vision for a formal organisation or an informal group. Without a visionary leadership, people will lack the focus required to achieve any objective.
• Beyond setting a vision, leadership sets the strategy and direction to be taken to achieve objectives. Without strategy and direction, goals, no matter how lofty they might be, will remain nothing but pipe dreams.
• Leadership sets and shapes the culture of organisations.
• Leaders are generally great teachers and mentors, making it possible for organisations to sustain dreams and aspirations for centuries on end.
Traits of Leaders: From our childhood escapades to university and through working careers and life in entrepreneurship, we have all come across all sorts of leaders that could inspire others to get things done. As children and senior adults, we have also read about great leaders in business, politics, government, civil resistance, etc. Names like Martin Luther King Jr., Sakichi Toyoda, Nelson Mandela, etc. easily come to mind. What are some of the common traits of these greats?
• Great leaders tend to always be emotionally intelligent. They understand themselves and others well.
• They are able to think ahead and ‘see’ certain things that most others don’t.
• They are great communicators and are able to get people interested and committed to aspirations regardless of difficulties.
• They are self-motivated and are able to remain upbeat, positive, and confident even in trying times.
• They are interested in other people and alert to tell-tale signs of loss of enthusiasm and can remotivate people.
• They are always able to focus on the big picture.
• Great leaders hold themselves responsible of their and their followers’ actions and don’t make excuses.
• They set core objectives and fundamental strategies, allowing ‘managers’ and followers room to deal with tactical details within agreed operating principles.
• They are able to work with all shades of people and handle each very well.
• Great leaders are passionate, persistent, and resilient. They see as temporary setbacks and minor irritations what others consider as failures.
If you ask me, the four most important factors that help retain the loyalty of followers to great leaders are the leaders’ integrity, competence, resilience, and ability to understand and keep their followers interested and committed.
We have today discussed the differences between leaders and managers, the benefits of leadership and the traits of great leaders. Next week, we will take up how to develop yourself into a great leader.