Over the last decade, I’ve had to explain way too often the difference between leadership, management, and being a boss. There are people with training that will disagree with some of what I write, if not all of it, but you can notice my level of concern with what they think by the fact that I’m publishing this.
Leadership is the ability to lead – and it requires a few ingredients that can vary across cultures and groups. Probably the most important aspect of leadership is trust.
People have to trust the leader, which is the constant political debacle of humanity. How that trust is formed varies around the world (When Culture Collide: Leading Across Cultures is a good resource, though the Caribbean suffered some laziness). That trust in someone as a leader is the most important aspect.
Regardless, that trust hopefully comes from some demonstrated ability, as well as a communicated vision that people agree on. The leader, as it is, doesn’t have to come up with the vision – this is a common misconception; visionaries aren’t always leaders and leaders aren’t always visionaries. The leader simply has to lead toward the common vision.
To continue leading, the leader has to retain the trust of those following – which is really the trickiest part of it all – while adjusting for changes in the vision and allowing for what people are willing to accept and sacrifice. People may take off their shoes a while to swim, but they are unlikely to be willing to have their feet amputated and fins installed.
We could get into the fine points of how to retain trust and so forth, but that varies from group to group and leader to leader. There’s no real school that can make everyone a leader, there is no book that will allow people to magically become leaders, and there’s absolutely nothing you can read on the Internet that will make you a leader.
It gets even more interesting. In different times, different skills and abilities – perhaps even talents – are needed to become a leader. In business, it’s rare to find a CEO that transitions from startup company to mature company. In complex technology products and services, different people lead different aspects of the project and hopefully some people at the top steer everything the right way with a common vision across the projects.
I’m not sure how it works in governments because I’m fairly certain it doesn’t.
So, that covers leadership.
Management, on the other hand, is not really leading. Management is simply a matter of making sure that the leaders are at their most effective. If someone has written that somewhere before, please let me know – I’ve yet to hear someone with ‘management training’ say it.
This does not mean a manager cannot be a leader. Traditionally, managers are expected to be leaders to some degree, but it’s just not necessary – they have to empower those that they manage to attain the common vision of a business, and that is really not so much about getting people to agree to a common vision but making sure that they work toward it for the pay that they get. In this, a manager is a boss – and a boss is not necessarily a leader, either. In fact, I’ve encountered bosses who were neither managers nor leaders – they’re more prevalent than you might think.
A boss is basically the person that can hire and fire people. Hopefully they have some management ability. Hopefully they have some leadership ability.