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Robin Hoyle

Huthwaite International

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

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Managers or leaders?


So the interim results of this month's training zone leadership poll are in.  And the result was… a complete split - 48% of respondents think their manager is not a good leader whereas 52% would presumably follow their manager to the ends of the earth.

What does this tell us?  Is it that almost half of these managers are not particularly good at leadership or that almost half of them do not live up to the leadership expectations of those they manage?  Perhaps the issue here is that we just don’t quite know what leadership is.  And if we don’t – is it that important?  Perhaps what’s needed in some of those roles is good managers rather than good leaders. Competent people who get things done, delegate, monitor and maintain focus sometimes might be more valuable than the modern model of leadership - whatever it is.

It is true, however, that we tend to think that leaders are somehow superior to managers, even if we can't always describe the difference. Training has perhaps played its role in the confusion here.  These days it is rare that a course is called management development.  Leadership development is thought more high profile, more 21st century and – let’s be honest – more sexy and more saleable. 

About 20 or so years ago what had been management training suddenly got a make-over.  Out went the focus on management and in came the focus on leadership.  I’m prepared to accept that there is a very real difference in these two skill sets, but unfortunately for most of the audiences for these courses what was and is still needed is management training, not leadership development.

In any case, for most of these courses management training is what the course delivers.  In the new leadership orthodoxy, however, we aren’t allowed to call it that.  I was developing and delivering those courses 20 years ago and I, like a whole series of others in the field, went through our course material using find and replace.  Out went management, being replaced by leadership. If we’re all honest, the remainder of the course content – motivation, communication, delegation, coaching and monitoring performance – stayed exactly the same.  Only the words changed.

So in the 21st century what do we mean by leadership? Is it modeled on our political leaders – Cameron, Clegg, Miliband – even Nigel Farage?  One can only hope not. Although they sort of have followers so I suppose from that perspective these are undoubtedly leaders - even if - as in Mr Cameron's case - many don't seem keen to follow too closely.

Do we look to Alan Sugar and equate leadership with the cartoon, game show antics of ‘you’re fired!’? (Or worse, the sharp–elbowed wannabes who aspire to work with him?)

Do we look to historical figures?  Do we want a Churchill, a Ghandi, a Martin Luther King?

I think we need to look even further back in time for a model of leadership fit for the current era.  Lao Tze, 6th Century BCE Chinese Philosopher, the recognised founder of Taoism and writer of the Tao Te Ching, defined leadership thus:

“and of the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence,

The next best, they honour and praise,

The next best they fear, and the next best they loathe.

And when the best leader’s work is done the people will say – ‘we did it ourselves!’”

When answering the question “Is your manager a good leader?” would those who responded define their leader as someone whose existence they did not notice?  Would we celebrate someone of whom we would say “we did it ourselves?” 

I doubt it – more’s the pity.

Robin Hoyle's book Complete Training: from recruitment to retirement is now available from Amazon and all good book shops. Click here for details. Enter COMPTR13 at checkout for a 25% discount and free UK P&P.

3 Responses

  1. Managers VS leaders

    "Managers do things right, but leaders do the right thing." I can't remember where I heard this rather cheesy remark, but there's definitely more to it. I really love the quote you've used that quote by Lao Tze, it sums it all up I think. I wouldn't use Alan Sugar as a good example of a leader. He is successful indeed, but he's an exception.

    Good article overall.

    Richard Lane, durhamlane, specialising in sales training courses.

  2. Alan Sugar no role model

    Hi Richard

    Thanks for your comment and I'm glad you like the Lao Tze quote.

    I certanily agree that Alan Sugar (sorry LORD Sugar) is far form a role model I would recommend. Certainly not in the cartoon character image in which he is portrayed in The Apprentice.  Of course, he might be completely different once the cameras are off, but … 

  3. Leaders Vs Managers…

    Managers and Leadership are almost the same terms but there is a sleek line of difference between them. Most of the people think that most of the successful leaders would be successful manager and vice versa. But the problem still remains around 48% people think that the good managers will act as good leadership where as 52% people think that good leader would be good manager. This above blog just provide us the best information about the difference between leader and manager.

    Corporate Leadership Training

Author Profile Picture
Robin Hoyle

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

Read more from Robin Hoyle

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