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Leadership and management – a crucial distinction


Alistair Fenton, Management and Personal Development Consultant with business growth company Rewards Scotland looks at why striking a balance between these two roles can be crucial for SME's.

With recent statistics revealing that there have already been over 180 bankruptcies this year, Scotland’s fragile economic track record continues. The performance of Corporate Scotland plc seems unlikely to show marked improvement until there is increasing acceptance of a pressing requirement for initiatives targeted at where they matter most.

They tend to matter most in the boardroom, where any distinction between leadership and management is often unclear. Yet while the distinction between the two can be subtle, it is almost always crucial.

There exists, though, an unhelpful misconception that leaders are born and that leadership skills cannot, therefore, be learned. Certainly, the term ‘born leader’ would not have become part of everyday parlance were it not for the recognised fact that certain driven personalities are ‘natural’ leaders.

Leaders are often innovative and creative thinkers well suited to providing a vision and a strategy for future development. They will not necessarily, however, be natural ‘managers’ who are by definition more concerned with bringing a director’s strategy to fruition.

Just as many leaders would benefit considerably from honing their managerial skills, so it follows that many managers would benefit from developing their leadership skills. In both cases, the ultimate beneficiary is the business enterprise within which they operate.

Leadership skills can be enhanced, for example, through the delivery of seminars on such subjects as: setting strategy, aims and objectives and how best to introduce and role out corporate strategies. While the influence of a particular leaders’ individual personality traits should never be underestimated – all leaders have their own ways of leading, which can range from passive to aggressive and all points inbetween – such strategy centric leadership training programmes can and do provide much needed structure and control into the overall organisational development process.

Such leadership training packages can yield significant benefits to those companies undergoing a period of transition, such as a merger, acquisition or rapid organic expansion, particularly where the internal promotion of managers to directorship level is deemed appropriate. While senior managers might well be in possession of highly developed managerial skills, it does not follow necessarily that their leadership abilities will be as developed, particularly where such managers have no prior experience of operating at directorship level.

Of course, just as exceptional managers will not necessarily make exceptional leaders without the benefit of training and development programmes, exceptional leaders will not necessarily make exceptional managers. Indeed, both the management style and technical management skills of leaders can often be found wanting, though this managerial deficiency tends to be counterbalanced to a degree by the leader’s strength of personality that acts to incentivise and inspire the senior management team.

Just as managers earmarked for promotion can benefit directly from a leadership training programme, so too can leaders benefit from a management training programme oriented towards developing their ‘people’ skills, through focusing on such issues as: staff motivation techniques, developing assertiveness, guidance on how to handle problematic employees, time management and communication skills.

Ambitious SMEs, if they are to realise fully their ambitions, require to strike the right balance between leadership and management skills and, rather than leave this balance to chance, it is more likely to be achieved via a structured and planned training programme designed to enhance the skills within the management and board when and where required.

Run by entrepreneurial owner/managers, the founders of SME’s typically have a requirement for management training in order to develop managerial skills, such as delegation, which many entrepreneurs find problematic. Entrepreneurs are, by their very nature, risk taking, while managers are more inclined to err on the side of caution and be risk averse. The most successful organisations, of course, are those where the skills of its leaders and managers are complementary.

The distinction between leaders and managers is less visible in those owner/managed businesses where the founder seeks to achieve the best of both worlds by straddling the roles of both inspirational leader and effective manager, often adopting an overly-autocratic management style by default.

The danger in such circumstances is that, in attempting to be all things to all men, the entrepreneurial founder finds himself falling between two stools with the end result that his enterprise becomes just another statistic to add to Scotland’s list of bankruptcies.

By recognising their own strengths and weaknesses in relation to their leadership and management skills, the shrewd entrepreneur will take active steps towards developing the skill set within his or her organisation and so safeguard the business enterprise against failure.


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