Manage to lead


Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker

And with this simple quote, shown up is one of the fundamental flaws in the way we value the people who work in local government.

Having been through restructures in the past, I am well versed in the intricacies of the average process.  The team or service undergoing the changes invariably ends up reviewing their structure charts, placing new teams together and rearranging workloads before or after assigning a manager for them to work with or to lead on their projects and keep things moving in the right direction.  Those higher up this chain get paid more, those lower down get paid less.

But why is this?  Why do those who sign off the leave cards for others, and who record progress via 1:1 meetings get paid more than those who actually do the work, those who make the contacts and those who lead the agenda and projects to where they need to be?

There seems to be an underlying assumption often made that leadership and management is intrinsically linked and that you can’t successfully do one without doing the other at the same time.  On many job descriptions for managers at whatever grade is the ability to lead and motivate others; how many of us are truly inspired by those immediately above us?  If you are one of thee then you are in a privileged position, as many simply are not.

However, many of us do find this inspiration from other colleagues we work with.  Some of these will be more senior than us, some more junior and some our peers.  I for one have been lucky enough to have had one or two inspirational managers, have been enthused by more junior staff and worked alongside some who have pushed me to be better than I  thought I could be before.

I’m sure I’m not unique in having known many of the exact opposite, those who’s jobs may or may not have been to inspire me but who didn’t for whatever reason.  Some of these have been superb managers, who have provided exactly what I needed when I needed it and allowed me to lead myself in my own direction. I didn’t hold this against them, in fact for me this was equally as important a stage in my professional development.

Had I been surrounded by leaders at these points then there is a good chance that I would have been led.  Instead, by being supported by very effective managers I was able to develop my own leadership skills and become what I believe to be a more effective leader myself.

That being said, those with leadership skills are usually placed into management positions, regardless of whether or not their management skills are up to scratch.  The ability to start up projects, to inspire others, to enthuse over a project and know where it should be heading seems to translate to the ability to keep accurate records, to understand and accept process and procedures and to be happy to deal with the mundanities of line management.

This is wrong.  Leadership and management are two very different disciplines, equally as valuable as each other.

One could be mistaken for thinking that leadership is all important for making things happen whilst managers simply do what they are told.  This combination oversimplifies things immensely.  Yes, leaders are more likely to set direction but managers are then required to make these plans into reality.

It would also be wrong to think that every manager is a natural leader, and to therefore ask them to take the lead when major projects roll around or change is required.  Far more useful would be to identify those individuals – at whatever level – and manage them properly in order for them to help set the correct direction.  Supportive management can enable others to lead, although the real challenge comes when being led by those who don’t manage others.  Not everyone is trusting enough of others to be led where they are taken.

We need to get better at trusting the leadership skills of more junior members of staff and managing them appropriately through guidance and support rather than near universally through leadership and direction giving.  Those few people who are both capable and willing to undertake both roles may be able to know when to focus on either of these two aspects, but for the rest of us we need to become more self aware of our strengths and preferences, and how these mesh with those within our teams.

If you are a manager, manage.  If you are a leader, lead, and if you work with others to get things done then get to know their strengths and weaknesses and where these complement yours.

Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out. Stephen Covey

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at:welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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One Comment on “Manage to lead”

  1. Andrew H Says:

    Bang on! We know who our leaders are and the inspire us to be faster, higher, better. A good manager lets that happen, catches the best bits and restrains the madder impulses – in fact a bit like my current boss. If only we can get that through the whole organisation. Perhaps I’ll suggest a study group on the subject…🙂


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