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Management and leadership skills: What’s the difference?

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Training and developing When furthering the skills of your managers and leaders, you must first define the difference between management and leadership. Mike Morrison says that many believe you can train management skills, but you develop leadership abilities, and he explores the options open to those responsible for the training and development of managers and leaders.


As our organisations change and adapt so must the people running them - our managers and leaders. In the past, many organisations have neglected to develop and train this group, letting most find their own way to their own unique management or leadership style.

The best organisations know that consistency is the name of the game for continued success. At the same time there has been much debate about methodologies - to train or to develop; to feed or to grow.

I would define the difference between management and leadership skills as follows:

  • Management skills: The skills required to manage people and resources to deliver a product or service.

  • Leadership skills: The skills required to engage with people and persuade them to 'buy-in' to a vision or goal.

You can have one without the other – but this is not without cost. Management without leadership will be fine in a culture of compliance and conformity. Leadership without management can lead to maverick behaviours.

Real effectiveness comes from an appropriate blend of both. Overall success comes from developing people at the same pace as the organisation; and developing people is as much about developing those who are running the organisation as it is those who deliver throughout it.

Business growth from people development (click image to see larger version)

To me, management is more about process, and leadership is primarily about people and attitude.

Management skills and knowledge are fundamental and can be taught. Leadership, on the other hand, tends to be a factor of personality and experience. So you train management skills and develop leadership capability.

Now, as I write this, I can here the click of keyboards all over saying but its not as simple as that... and they are right! But for the purposes of this article, that is the simplistic premise taken.

Get the basics right first

It does not matter if you are training or developing managers or leaders, the basics are vital:

  • Can this individual build rapport?

  • Can they set goals?

  • Can they give honest constructive feedback?

  • Can they make the tough decisions?

The potential list here is huge – but these are great for starters.

Training managers

So how do you train managers? Well the biggest mistake many people make is to assume that, because a person holds a senior position, they have covered the basics – this is just not true.

"The biggest mistake many people make is to assume that, because a person holds a senior position, they have covered the basics – this is just not true."

Some years ago, when I was head of training for a private hospital and we ran management training programmes, we encouraged people to take a step back academically, so people that would traditionally have done a diploma programme attended a certificate, and those that would have gone in at certificate level, started on a first line manager programme.

This ensured that everyone had at least a common point of reference. At the end of the pilot programme, results were well above what was expected. Indeed some 10 years on, every one of the managers that started on the first line manager programme are now heads of department, either in the original company or now in others. This is still a methodology I advocate today.

Many people forget that being a manager is a profession in its own right, and it should be treated as such. This means starting (academically) at the bottom. On many occasions as a business advisor, I was called in to help a business that had been started on the back of a MBA relationship, only to find that the basics were not in place, and while the directors knew the theory of running a business, they lacked the basics of people management and day-to-day processes.

So for me the most effective way to train managers is an input of knowledge with the opportunity to practice and get feedback in the workplace. One day wonders are just that, a passing day of interest with little impact. Change takes time and effort.

Developing leaders

Apart from some basic principles, such as goal setting, influencing and so on, the most effective leadership development is on the job, and supported by a mentor, coach or action learning set. Measurements for success can include morale surveys, staff surveys and so on.

Good leadership is developed over time. Leaders recognise their own strengths and weaknesses, they know that to move forward they must be prepared to take action (or risks) as well as have the people around them with the ideas for change and progress (creativity).

"You only need to look at what happens in the world of football and the coming and going of managers to know that it is not just about skill, but cultural fit."

While peer review groups and coaching are great tools, it is vital that the 'right' people are involved. For example, an action learning set needs to be balanced; there is no point having one senior manager and four middle managers, as the senior will not gain much. Equally, there are many people purporting to be manager and leadership coaches. What underpinning knowledge do they have? What management qualifications do they have? What real business experience do they have? In other words, are they credible?

This is not to say that there is a universal 'right' way to train managers or develop leaders – each company and culture will need its own blend of skills and attitudes – a good reason why recruitment is so hard – you only need to look at what happens in the world of football and the coming and going of managers to know that it is not just about skill, but cultural fit.

An effective management training programme will ensure the basics are in place, and train people for the relevant policies and procedures as well as the basic underpinning knowledge required of a manager, of any sort.

To develop leaders, we need to take account of the culture of the organisation, the level of autonomy available to managers and leaders, and then we need to put in place support systems appropriate to the organisation and its culture to support the growth of people with potential.

About the auhor: Mike Morrison FCIPD MIoD MIBC is a trainer and coach specialising in business improvement. Over the past 10 years, he has coached and supported hundreds of managers and organisations in the development of both individuals and the organisations in which they operate. For more information, please visit www.rapidbi.com/bir

This feature was first published in December 2007.

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