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5.4 Management vs leadership

Management and leadership are not the same thing, and it is helpful to clarify the distinction between them.

The reading by Alvesson and Spicer in your reading pack uses the idea of metaphor that section 3 of these materials was based on to explore theores of leadership.

John Kotter, a leading writer on management and leadership, says that management is about coping with complexity (2001). Good management brings order and consistency, and promotes stability. Managers make plans and handle budgets; they create organisation charts which they then staff; and they ensure that plans are carried out through controls, monitoring processes and problem solving.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about coping with change, which becomes vital for survival in a volatile and highly competitive world. Leaders initiate change by developing a vision of the future and strategies to accomplish this vision; they communicate the vision skilfully; and they motivate and inspire people to buy into their vision.

The table summarises how Kotter sees the difference between management and leadership:

Coping with complexity Coping with change
Planning and budgeting Setting a direction
Organising and staffing Aligning people
Controlling and problem solving Motivating and inspiring

Table 5.4.1 Management vs Leadership (Kotter, 2001)

Since leadership is about change and management is about dealing with the status quo, you may need to act as a leader far less often than as a manager. For most of the time you want to conduct your activities efficiently and effectively rather than change what you and your team are trying to achieve.

Kotter argues that while management and leadership have different purposes both are essential. As an illustration, when President Kennedy said in the early 1960’s that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, that is an example of a leader painting an inspiring vision. To make the vision the reality it became when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, a lot of management had to have taken place in the meantime.

Doyle and Smith (2001) summarise how views of leadership have evolved over the last century. They describe four main views of leadership:

• Trait theories
• Behavioural theories
• Contingency theories
• Transformational theories

They begin by writing:

But what is leadership? It seems to be one of those qualities that you know when you see it, but is difficult to describe. There are almost as many definitions as there are commentators. Many associate leadership with one person leading. Four things stand out in this respect. First, to lead involves influencing others. Second, where there are leaders there are followers. Third, leaders seem to come to the fore when there is a crisis or special problem. In other words, they often become visible when an innovative response is needed. Fourth, leaders are people who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and why. Thus, leaders are people who are able to think and act creatively in non-routine situations – and who set out to influence the actions, beliefs and feelings of others. In this sense being a ‘leader’ is personal. It flows from an individual’s qualities and actions. However, it is also often linked to some other role such as manager or expert. Here there can be a lot of confusion. Not all managers, for example, are leaders; and not all leaders are managers.

Trait theories

This approach seeks to identify the personality characteristics found in leaders. The basic idea is that someone who possesses these traits will be able to lead effectively. Studies identified traits in leaders such as:

• Physical vitality and stamina
• Intelligence
• Eagerness to accept responsibility
• Skill in dealing with people
• Need for achievement
• Decisiveness
• Self-confidence

Other studies, however, found that such traits did not distinguish particularly well people who were likely to become leaders and those who were not.

Behavioural theories

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s the focus moved from the traits of leaders to leadership. Different patterns of behaviour were grouped together and labelled as styles. For example, as we considered earlier, Blake and Mouton suggested that an effective leader balanced concern for task and concern for people. Others distinguished between a directive style of leadership - taking decisions for others and expecting them to follow instructions – and a participative style of leadership where decision making is shared with others.

Contingency theories

A weakness of both the trait approach and the behavioural approach was that they did not take properly into account the context or setting in which the style was used. An effective leader needs to vary their approach depending on who they are leading and the environment they are operating in. A contingency approach recognises that effective leadership is situational.

Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s model of situational leadership identifies four different styles that are required in different situations. The styles reflect how directive the leader is about the task and how much effort they spend on supporting the individual. The four styles are:

Telling (high task/low relationship behaviour). This style or approach is characterized by giving a great deal of direction to subordinates and by giving considerable attention to defining roles and goals. The style was recommended for dealing with new staff, or where the work was menial or repetitive, or where things had to be completed within a short time span. Subordinates are viewed as being unable and unwilling to ‘do a good job’.

Selling (high task/high relationship behaviour). Here, while most of the direction is given by the leader, there is an attempt at encouraging people to ‘buy into’ the task. Sometimes characterized as a ‘coaching’ approach, it is to be used when people are willing and motivated but lack the required ‘maturity’ or ‘ability’.

Participating (high relationship/low task behaviour). Here decision-making is shared between leaders and followers – the main role of the leader being to facilitate and communicate. It entails high support and low direction and is used when people are able, but are perhaps unwilling or insecure (they are of ‘moderate to high maturity’).

Delegating (low relationship/low task behaviour). The leader still identifies the problem or issue, but the responsibility for carrying out the response is given to followers. It entails having a high degree of competence and maturity (people know what to do, and are motivated to do it).

Transformational theories

James McGregor Burns (2003) distinguished between transactional and transforming leaders. Transactional leaders ‘approach their followers with an eye to trading one thing for another.’ Transformational leaders appeal to their followers’ ‘better nature and move them toward higher and more universal needs and purposes’. The differences in the two approaches are illustrated in the table:

Maintain or improve the status quo Challenge and change the status quo
Have clarity on short term objectives Establish the long term vision
Plan, organise and control personally Coach and develop individuals and teams
Solve problems Support their teams in solving problems
Perpetuate control structures Create a climate of trust
Guard and defend prevailing culture Challenge and create an evolving culture
Power from their position Power from influencing others
Authority from the organisation Authority from trust and respect

Table 5.4.2 Transactional vs Transformational leaders (Burns, 2003)

Doyle and Smith conclude their survey by saying that ‘classical’ leadership is one where leaders:

• Tend to be identified by position. They are part of the hierarchy.
• Become the focus for answers and solutions. We look to them when we don’t know what to do, or when we can’t be bothered to work things out for ourselves.
• Give direction and have vision.
• Have special qualities setting them apart. These help to create the gap between leaders and followers.

They suggest that this view of leadership sits comfortably with the forms of organisation common in business, the armed forces and government that are focused on achieving objectives in a timely manner.

Activity: How does your approach to leadership align? It might be fruitful to reflect on the impact of the higher education, or the career and employability context, on your leadership approach. Laid out in black and white, the transformational approach can look more compelling. However, organisational context, culture and structures can affect focus and style. Give an example on the forum of a time when you have led, commenting on the transactional or transformational nature.


Burns, J. M. (2003) Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Doyle, M. E. and Smith, M. K. (2001) ‘Classical leadership’, the encyclopedia of informal education,, accessed 4 February 2015

Herschey, P. and Blanchard, K. (1977). Management of Organizational Behavior 3rd Edition– Utilizing Human Resources. New Jersey/Prentice Hall.

Kotter, J. (2001) What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review, 79, 11, 85 – 98.