Are leadership and management the same thing? Most people are increasingly saying no, they are not. Management is considered a science whereas leadership is often captured in softer terms; with a deeper connection to softer skills. But shouldn’t managers be leaders and leaders be managers? Aren’t they two sides of the same coin? Well, not really… While it’s possible to be both, a manager may not be a good leader and vice versa. So, what’s the difference?
As mentioned, management is mainly framed as a science. This is particularly obvious when looking at training programs such as the well-known MBA. Its teachings aim at acquiring knowledge of validated theories, models and tools such as Porter’s five forces for strategy, the GAAP rules for accounting or the Harvard Negotiation Project framework and its foundational book “Getting to Yes”. Being a good manager flows from such training and consists in using our hard knowledge and skills to run the business. Through management, we usually structure a path from A to B and then troubleshoot the journey to get there. Management is therefore more about doing things to achieve set goals.
On the other hand, leadership is increasingly seen as something closer to an art rather than a science. It seems more closely tied to the individual; his or her personality, vision and ways of doing things. The way leadership styles have been coined is very telling in that regard: visionary, inspirational and mindful leadership are all but a few examples. All of these adjectives tap into the soft skills that are at the core of who we are as humans. Leadership is rarely qualified as “scientific” or “logical”. It relies on instinct, character, values and intuition. It can be witnessed, experienced and emulated by example but not quantified in a spreadsheet. Leadership is therefore more about being or embodying something that can inspire, rally and mobilize.
Through that lens, management is hardly the same thing as leadership. In healthcare, there is a huge need for sound management as services offered require rigor, hard skills and protocoled actions and processes. Without sound operational management, healthcare could not be of quality or even function at all. But more than ever, healthcare is also in need of leadership to keep the system going. We need it to shape a vision and mobilize; to uphold clear values; to display courage and make difficult decisions even though this may mean stepping outside of the beaten paths in order to achieve success. Venturing into the unknown is not an exact science and calls for leadership to show the way. This comes with its fair share of risks. Most leaders experienced it first hand during the pandemic and I was no exception. Many mistakes were made to lead the way forward into the unknown. Hindsight 20/20, one can, and probably should, question leadership after the fact. Taking stock of lessons to be learned is important. But in the end, what seemed impossible one day is now emerging. That’s leadership. Leadership is therefore more about being or embodying something that enables us to move forward; to move towards a future that may sometimes be uncertain. The infamous quote associated with Ghandi, which he did not say verbatim but in deeper words, comes to mind when trying to capture what leadership may be: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. This is why leadership is such a difficult skill to develop and master. It digs deep into who we are in order to extract what we are willing to stand for; what we are willing to be or to become. This is what leadership is all about.
Great visionary leaders such as Steve Jobs or Nelson Mandela achieved great things in very different realities and with very different objectives. But they achieved them the same way: by sharing a vision of a better world; by taking a stand for what they believed in; by making bold decisions with risky or uncertain outcomes; and by inspiring people to reach beyond what they thought possible. They achieved their goals by embodying what they believed in; by being true to who they were; by being leaders. More than ever, healthcare is in need of authentic leaders. It would be worth exploring further what leads to leadership in healthcare and how to promote it but these are good topics for future articles…
In the meantime, may you be well, may you be happy.