Friday, 2 September 2011

The difference between leaders and managers

Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Education has suggested that soldiers facing redundancy should be encouraged to take up teaching and help address discipline issues in the classroom.

While there is of course, political expediency behind this idea – aimed at softening the blow of military job losses, I believe there is some merit in the plan. Not just because of the potential effect on pupil behaviour – but because the public sector badly needs leaders. And many individuals who are natural leaders are attracted to a military career. Their leadership skills are then honed and put to test in extreme circumstances. Good training for a leadership role in the NHS I wonder?

The NHS employs thousands of managers. Some join with management experience, some achieve well-earned promotion and some work their way up till it’s their turn for the management pay scale level. Many NHS managers are excellent, some aren’t. But they are not leaders. Yes – there are also a few good leaders within the NHS, but not enough. Visionary and energetic leadership in hospitals, commissioning consortia and the care sector are going to be our best chance to move the state funded health provision forward.

Every organisation needs both leaders and managers. Successful organisations have great leaders supported by focussed managers. When the lines become blurred progress can be compromised. So what is the difference between a leader and a manager?

The obvious - a leader leads and a manager manages: ‘Hands on leadership’ is only of value in certain contexts. As a rule – leaders should show the way forward and provide the vision while managers create and implement the action plans required for each objective.

A leader has a vision for the long term view: Managers have to deal with the ‘now’, while keeping current activity within long term strategy. The leader sets the clear direction while the manager plans the detail.

Integrity: A desirable quality whoever you are, but transparent integrity is vital for a leader as it sets the tone for the organisation or facility that he or she leads.

Discretion and detachment: A manager can get away with sharing some tasty titbits of organisational gossip with their staff. A leader should never expose himself to that risk.

Leaders have followers, managers have subordinates. Interestingly – you follow a leader by choice, you report to a manger out of necessity.

Charismatic and inspirational: Essential for a leader, but a good manager can still perform their role well without these qualities. In a perfect world, we would want all our leaders to be charismatic. True leaders, while approachable and cordial, should still have that air of ‘difference’ – not indifference or superiority, but that ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality of authority and focus.

As John Quincy Adams, the 6th US President said ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader’

Just what the NHS needs. So - Andrew Lansley (UK Secretary of State for Health), just as your counterpart in education is considering 'fast tracking' redundant soldiers to become teachers - how about a healthcare leadership scheme for the ex-military too?


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