When we think of leaders, we associate the image with a charismatic personality who makes rousing speeches. Managers are figures of authority in a business. The common perception is that a leader has followers whereas a manager is in charge of workers, or that leaders are political figures and managers work in a business establishment.
The growing interest in management studies has brought the importance of leadership qualities into focus. Now, even organisations like hospitals and educational institutes recognise the importance of good leadership, and government bodies are incorporating business management practices into their daily functioning.
The role of managers
Managers have to focus on processes to ensure the smooth functioning of the department or organisation they manage. Their duties include achieving targets, budgeting, hiring and firing, assessing employee performance and trouble shooting. All these are clearly defined areas which require inputs from skilled people. They involve task setting and co-ordination between employees. Good management is essential for a successful organisation.
The role of leaders
Leaders focus on the people in their organisation. They build teams who share their vision. Team members who share their leader’s vision are motivated and dedicated. Leaders encourage and inspire. They build capacity in their co-workers, and foster a spirit of co-operation. Person-to-person contact is as important as managerial skill. Leadership involves challenge and innovation. The best leaders are those who can negotiate change and difficult times.
Management and leadership are complementary. A leader’s vision can be successfully implemented by a good manager. While the leader is defining the bigger picture, the manager works on achieving the short term goals. The manager ensures efficiency and productivity; the leader mentors and counsels.
Both roles can be combined and there are instances where good managers are also inspirational leaders. But in large organisations, leadership is usually dependent on management to carry forward its mission and vision. It has been noted that management training does not necessarily include leadership skills. There are many people who are very capable of handling processes but are not good at communicating with others.
The growing need for leadership
Across the world, the work culture is changing rapidly. With the spread of education, employees are better trained and qualified. In the words of the late Peter Drucker, “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.” The most successful organisations today have leaders who get the best out of all their employees, proving that Drucker knew what he was talking about.
Experts insist that leadership skills must be acquired before actually becoming a leader. Some say that individuals who have good communication and inter-personal skills should be groomed for leadership. There are others who advise starting in school. Students need to be encouraged to express themselves as well as develop collaborative skills. Empathy and innovation must be given positive reinforcement. This approach calls for more emphasis on sports, music and the arts. There is no doubt that working towards a common goal with one’s peers will develop good team work.
The overlap between management and leadership
With the growth of start-ups and smaller organisations, there is a clear overlap between the skills needed for both roles. The person in charge must be able to inspire and motivate as a leader, while demonstrating the efficiency of a manager. As a leader he or she must be able to communicate both within and outside the organisation. Knowledge of the processes needed to function effectively is imperative. This is a managerial domain. It is most beneficial for aspiring managers to develop leadership skills, and organisations are increasingly looking to strike a balance between the two.