Monday, February 9, 2015

What is a Leader?

This afternoon I had the occasion to discuss leadership with one of my colleagues with expertise in the area of management.  During our brief conversation, we discussed a well known administrator at our university.  We agreed on what he had done, where we disagreed was what it should be called.
I claimed this person was a great manager, but my colleague argued that he was a great leader.  That got me thinking about the possible differences.  In my mind, managers mainly manage resources (which includes people) whereas leaders inspire those led to act in a somewhat different way than they would on their own.

I looked up some definitions.  Here’s a start:
“… leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal.”  Or, “The act of inspiring subordinates to perform and engage in achieving a goal.” Or, "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". A leader is somebody whom people follow, or as somebody who guides or directs others, while others define leadership as "organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal".

 To elaborate:
 “Leadership involves:
  1. Establishing a clear vision,
  2. Sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly,
  3. Providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision, and
  4. Coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.”
And, “A leader steps up in times of crisis, and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations. Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring.”

Compare this with administration/management: 
“The activities that relate to running a company, school, or other organization.”
 “The management of any office, business, or organization; direction.”

 And: “Management in organizations is the function that coordinates the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization to accomplish the goal.” 

While the person in question certainly managed our university well, as far as I can tell he had little influence on the teaching, research or service of any faculty member, nor the performance of any staff member.  To be honest, I enjoyed the quietness on campus while this person ran the show, but I never heard, read, or perceived that he care one whit about our attitude, work, or support.  He had an excellent plan, he executed it well, and it worked, but it had NOTHING to do with the people of the organization.

So, what is leadership and have you ever seen a great leader?  I’m really interested.

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