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Misled? Mismanaged? Or, just Mistaken?

There is widespread misunderstanding of the terms Management and Leadership. This article attempts to describe the role of leadership within a business management structure and explores some of the basic motivators attributable to line managers and team leaders in a business environment.

There is no real secret to becoming a leader. All you need is to be the person in the group with the best handle on a current situation. The handle may be the ability to do what others would like to do, or the courage to say what others would like to say. You also need the ability to follow through on your lead and deliver what it is that others in the group want. 

As in the old saying ‘You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink’, similarly, you can’t lead people where they don’t want to go, nor can you lead people to believe in what they abhor.  

Leaders emerge in situations with such frequency that we tend to dismiss the act as a normal everyday occurrence. When a person is taken ill on a crowded street there will always be someone who knows how to administer first aid or call an ambulance. That person leads the situation and then disappears back into the crown in a sweet human fashion that is repeated nowhere else in nature’s domain.  

Leadership can stem from an individual’s innate belief that what they are doing or saying is the right, maybe the only, way for the group to go, or from knowledge that what they are doing or saying is the best route for the group to follow. Knowledge can come from training or experience. It is harder for a maverick in the group to challenge a leadership based on knowledge than it is to challenge one based on faith.  

So, where does leadership in management figure in the human condition? 

A manager with experience, or training may well know exactly what needs doing in a given situation, even if the situation is not a frequent occurrence. In such situations team members will turn to the manager for guidance, even if only by delegation in an upward direction. The manager will hear the call and take, or direct, the necessary action.  

This is not a voluntary reaction, such as that of the ‘man in the street’ coming to the aid of another in distress, but a requirement of the role of management. The manager has been placed in position by the business to take the responsibility of the situation and to move it to a satisfactory conclusion. 

In ages past there was a very clear distinction between those who led and the rest. Generally, those who led had received the benefit of an education, whereas followers, generally, had not. An education served to enable a person to make better qualified decisions. Likewise with a manager. Individuals are appointed to management roles on the basis of skill set and learning. 

Leadership types in management come in three different flavours. 

  • The believer. This individual holds the core belief that his/her lead is the best or only way to deal with the issues facing the group. Such a leader may have been appointed to a leadership position due to that core belief, in short the core belief has been ‘sold upwards’ to more senior management, or senior management has successfully ‘sold’ the core belief downwards to the incumbent. 
  • The tested. This individual has had past training or experience in a similar leadership role, or in the function that the group fulfils, and is expected to bring that ability to bear on the current situation. The incumbent must accept and believe in the corporate requirements for forward momentum in the form of agreed SLAs and methods of working, fitting these into a leadership style defined by personal experience. 
  • The professional. This individual has no deep seated core belief in any particular method of achieving an end result. He/she may accept the corporate  line, but only as a requirement of the job in hand. Like ‘The tested’ type, training and/or experience are part of ‘The professional’s’  background. This type may lead the group very successfully, but in order to do so must be able to use soft management skills to convince followers that the beliefs they are being asked to follow are sound and worthy of ardent pursuit. 


All three types are valid and non is superior. Selection of type for a leadership position will depend on what the aim of senior management is at the time of appointment and, of course, the availability of suitable candidates.  

Issues begin to arise when insufficient thought is given to the selection. Senior management often opt for placing an individual of ‘The believer’ type in the mistaken assumption that a culture of core values and enthusiasm are a good substitute for training and experience.  

This is rarely the case. 

Greater issues arise when the corporate direction undergoes a change. This may be caused by changes in a market, an audit resulting in a shift in corporate values, or simply a change of senior management. 

In this scenario a leader of ‘the believer’ type can be seriously compromised. Often the ‘new’ corporate values may not align with the leaders personal values and as ‘the believer’ lives by personal values that cannot be comfortably changed, a conflict emerges. The usual result for the compromised leader is a move to greener pastures. 

A leader of ‘ the tested’ variety can accept new values, provided that there is sufficient sound reasoning to justify the change. The leader in this instance has ‘bought’ the earlier company line and sold it on to his group. A change in direction will require considerable courage for the leader to accept. There will be a weakening of the leadership as followers may not accept the new direction and performance may well suffer as a result. The alternative is a move to greener pastures for the compromised leader. 

A leader of ‘the professional’ type will accept new values and will probably be able to sell-on new values better than either of the other types. However, a professional leader may not wish to do this and may elect to move to greener pastures. 

The moral here is that senior management really should know what they intend when appointing people to leadership positions. Similarly, when a corporate direction change is required, careful consideration must be given to the impact on morale and productivity this will have down the line. Unfortunately, my experience is that this is rarely the case. 

In order to further the discussion on leadership and management in a structured way it would be useful if interested parties would take a little time to read this very short fiction – A Moment in Time, a story of leadership in extreme circumstances. Then, return here and post comments regarding what type of leadership, BelieverFind Article, Tested or Professional is described in the story. 


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Chris has a lifetime experience of IT and management. You can find more guidance on his websites

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