Often when we mention leadership, people think of someone in a supervisor, manager, or boss role. Some might think of these as leadership roles, but they are more properly termed as management roles. Those who are being managed are generally motivated by some sort of compensation. Leadership, on the other hand, motivates followers through inspiration and a desire to please their leader. Peter Drucker described the difference as “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.” Murray Johannsen described the difference as “Managers have subordinates—leaders have followers.” While there are many managers who are also great leaders, being assigned the position or title of manager does not make one a good leader. The skills and characteristics of a manager are generally quite different than the skills and characteristics of a leader.
Just what is leadership? If we look in a dictionary, we get little help. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines leadership as: “a position as a leader of a group, organization, etc.; the time when a person holds the position of leader; the power or ability to lead other people.” Those definitions all feel like we are chasing our tail.
Dwight Eisenhower described leadership as “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Harry Truman defined a leader as “a man who can persuade people to do what they don’t want to do, or do what they’re too lazy to do, and like it.” Long ago John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
In most of the good definitions of leadership we see a common theme, which is the simplest and clearest definition of leadership – leadership is influence. In fact, this is the definition that John Maxwell uses when he says: “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another.” He also said, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
Warren Bennis, the great scholar and author on leadership said: “There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.” While the differences between management and leadership are not hard and fast, some general differences would be the following: management is about today, leadership is about tomorrow; management focuses on tasks, leadership focuses on people; managers seek stability and control, leaders tolerate uncertainty to achieve change. Because of these and other differences, followers of leaders often realize intrinsic rewards, a higher level on the hierarchy of needs.
Today’s business world sees accelerating change and more uncertainty. Higher levels of competition make it more difficult to earn the profitability of past, more stable years. Organizations are more often organizing work into teams. Leadership skills enable people to establish better collaboration, both within their work teams and with outside people. Research shows that organizations with good leadership skills are more innovative (a result of forward-thinking and people empowerment) and more productive (a result of better motivation and intrinsic rewards). Also, research shows more job satisfaction in high leadership situations leading to lower employee turnover. All of these factors lead to higher long-term profitability and companies that are prepared to move into the future.
From the above discussion you may already see that leadership can greatly impact the culture of an organization. In the next leadership article we will further explore this impact of good leadership on a company’s culture and the importance in today’s changing business climate.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.