"A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management"

excerpt from John Kotter, Management and Leadership, 1990

The word leadership is used in two very different ways in everyday conversation. Sometimes it refers to a process that helps direct and mobilize peoples and/or their ideas; we say, for example, that Fred is providing leadership on the such and such project. At other times it refers to a group of people in format positions where leadership, in the first sense of the word, is expected; we say that the leadership of the firm is made up of ten people, including George, Alice, etc.

In this book, I will use the word almost exclusively in the first sense, The second usage contributes greatly to the confusion surrounding this subject because it subtly suggests that everyone in a leadership position actually provides leadership. This is obviously not true; some such people lead well, some lead poorly, and some do not lead at all. Since most of the people who are in positions of leadership today are called managers, the second usage also suggests that leadership and management are the same thing, or at least closely related. They are not.

Leadership is an ageless topic. That which we call management is largely the product of the last 100 years, a response to one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century; the emergence of large numbers of complex organizations. Modern management was invented, in a sense, to help the new railroads, steel mills, and auto companies achieve what legendary entrepreneurs created them for. Without such management, these complex enterprises tended to become chaotic in ways that threatened their very existence. Good management brought a degree of order and consistency to key dimensions like the quality and profitability of products.

In the past century, literally thousands of managers, consultants, and management educators have developed and refined the processes which make up the core of modern management. These processes, summarized briefly, involve:

1. Planning and budgeting-setting targets or goals for the future, typically for the next month or year; establishing detailed steps for achieving those targets, steps that might include timetables and guidelines; and then allocating resources to accomplish those plans

2. Organizing and staffing-establishing an organizational structure and set of jobs for accomplishing plan requirementSi staffing the jobs with qualified individuals, communicating the plan to those people, delegating responsibility for carrying out the plan, and establishing systems to monitor implementation

3. Controlling and problem solving-monitoring results versus plan in some detail, both formally and informally, by means of reports, meetings, etc. identifying deviations, which are usually called "problems," and then planning and organizing to solve the problems.

These processes produce a degree of consistency and order. Unfortunately, as we have witnessed all too frequently in the last half century, they can produce order on dimensions as meaningless us the size of the typeface on executive memoranda. But that was never the intent of the pioneers who invented modern management. They were trying to produce consistent results on key dimensions expected by customers, stockholders, employees, and other organizational constituencies, despite the complexity caused by large size, modern technologies, and geographic dispersion. They created management to help keep a complex organization on time and on budget. That has been, and still is, its primary function.

Leadership is very different. It does not produce consistency and order, as the word itself implies; it produces movement. Throughout the ages, individuals who have been seen as leaders have created change, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. They have done so in a variety of ways, though their actions often seem to boil down to establishing where a group of people should go, getting them lined up in that direction and committed to movement, and then energising them to overcome the inevitable obstacles they will encounter along the way.

What constitutes good leadership has been a subject of debate for centuries, in general, we usually label leadership "good" or "effective" when it moves people to a place in which both they and those who depend upon them are genuinely better off, and when it does so without trampling on the rights of others. The function implicit in this belief is constructive or adaptive change. Leadership within a complex organization achieves this function through three subprocesses which, as we will see in further detail later on in this book, can briefly be described as such:

1. Establishing direction-developing a vision of the future, often the distant future, along with strategies for producing the changes needed to achieve that vision

2. Aligning people-communicating the direction to those whose cooperation, may be needed so as to create coalitions that understand the vision and that are committed to its achievement

3. Motivating and inspiring-keeping people moving in the right direction despite major political, bureaucratic, and resource barriers to change by appealing to very basic, but often untapped, human needs, values, and emotions

Management and leadership, so defined, are clearly in some ways similar. They both involve deciding what needs to be done, creating networks of people and relationships that can accomplish an agenda, and then trying to ensure that those people actually get the job done. They are both, in this sense, complete action systems; neither is simply one aspect of the other. People who think, of management as being only the implementation part of leadership ignore the fact that leadership has its own implementation processes: alignment of people to new directions and then inspiring them to make it happen. Similarly, people who think of leadership as only part of the implementation aspect of management (the motivational part) ignore the direction-setting aspect of leadership.

Note: the day I created this page I visited Prodigal Kiwis website, where Paul Fromont speaks of a five day workshop he has just entered. He writes,

The first reading for the workshop looks at the need for self-aware leaders. It is from worldbusinesslive.com and written by Christopher Grey. In the one page article Grey points out the humble beginnings of the concepts ‘leadership’ and ‘management’.

“Management derives from the French “menager” and the Italian “maneggiare,” the first referring to running a domestic household and the second to handling horses. The ultimate root is from manus, the Latin for hand. So, in origin, management refers to quite humble, mundane activities and we keep some of that meaning when we talk about ‘managing to catch the train’.”

“The same is true of leadership; we have become used to thinking about leadership in terms of dramatic heroism, grand visions and adulation from lesser mortals. But the etymology is again instructive. With roots in Norse and mediaeval German, the term leadership originally denoted ‘the carrying of a load’ with connotations of service to others – humility rather than grandiosity is the key.”

Grey builds on the need for this down to earth people focused approach to leadership. He ends saying – “Running a household, looking after the horses, bearing the load – these are good, if unfashionable, metaphors for managers and leaders. In business, as in life, less can be more.”


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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 9, 2006