Management is not Leadership – dispelling the myth

There is a widely held view that a business manager is naturally a leader. Nothing can be further from the truth. My British Army experience demonstrated that strong leadership with a detailed grasp of administration or management was central to being an effective military leader – a leader having the ability to manage resources to achieve the intended aim and above all, to motivate and lead people. On moving across to the commercial world, I discovered that in a tough economic environment strong leadership, coupled with robust management, is vital to giving business the edge, beating the competition and achieving growth.

leadership-versus-managementA simple definition of leadership is the ability to inspire trust and confidence in those you lead, such that they follow you, knowing that you will do the right thing. Or put it another way, strong leadership persuades those led to do willingly those things which they otherwise would not want to do!  But it is more complex than that – inevitably. Without committed, motivated and enthusiastic people, organisations at best will stagnate and make little progress, and at worst will become moribund and fail. In the complex  commercial world, businesses should be forward-looking and innovative in order to maintain momentum. They need well-led people to do that.

Some would say that people can be motivated simply by financial incentives to meet targets and deliver what is required. I disagree. Financial inducements have a part to play but there is a real risk that such incentives on their own will simply create a culture of self-centred individualism, with little thought for the overall objectives of the business. There is no substitute for people knowing their place in the organisation and working together to achieve objectives with a trusted leader at the head.

For any operation or venture to be successful, the resources to support the achievement of the objective require to be marshalled and used well. In military terms, a successful campaign needs a number of resources: intelligence on the enemy; combat-capable Forces; well-planned logistics etc. Warfare is a complex business – get it wrong and people will die needlessly.  But in the commercial world, life equally complex, but hopefully no-one will die if you get it wrong! Resources still need marshalling: intelligence on the competition; skilled people; an effective budget. Whilst a manager can coordinate these resources, it is the leader who provides the judgement on how to use them where, when and in what manner. Judgement comes with practice and making mistakes from which you learn – there is no substitute for this – it cannot be taught on a management course. Practice, trial and error is how you develop and grow as a leader who will be respected and followed.

In summary, management is not leadership but to be effective, a leader must have a strong grasp of management.

John Stokoe

Head of Strategic Development at Dassault Systèmes
John is Head of Strategic Development for Northern Europe at Dassault Systèmes. He is a former Major General in the British Army and, since leaving the Army in 1999, he has gained considerable commercial experience in the construction, infrastructure services and IT sectors, operating at both business unit and Board level.
  • Whilst agreeing with the premise that a manager does not
    make a natural leader – I am not 100% convinced by the traditional military model either or at least I believe that it is less relevant nowadays.

    In the past it may (or as often not) be that the military leadership
    model may have worked – a ‘Monty’ (or Rommel) may well have the motivation qualities – to in my opinion ‘Win hearts and Minds’. [Just as an aside then the enemy was likely to have been run or operated along the same lines. Even in the modern military– the enemy is not the same – is likely to be inspired by other not equivalent ideologicaltypes (apparently irrational to us) andorganised in a non hierarchical command structure]

    Another related issue of leadership in today’s business
    environment (as well as the changing form of the values of customers – who may be driven by non traditional businessthings such as financial ‘bottom line aims’ –but also add social and ethical considerations) is that many employees having either experienced or lived through the fall out of the ‘Counter Culture’ of
    the 60s (Vietnam, flower power, popular music leading to the questioning of traditional hierarchical power forms etc) are less amenable to being part of the corporate hierarchy. They may not directly challenge it – but instead stay quietly ‘disgruntled’ and not amenable to traditional motivators.

    Hence the rise of open source software and at the corporate
    level the popularity of individuals such as Steve Jobs who seem a bit ‘maverick’ and customers and employees being attracted to ideas of ‘experiences’ a la Joe Pine II, Authenticity and ‘self identity’ – to be ‘different’. A business leader does not have to agree with the values of whatever initiated the changing cultural values – but needs to recognise that post WWII, changes happened and are influential, in fact more main stream no, enough to alter what leadership actually means.

    Finally I would argue that much of the apparent complexity of
    the world to business (especially larger businesses) lies in failing to
    understanding those changing and influential historical moments from the 60s and their impact on customers and employees and ultimately their businesses.