Positive Inspirational Leadership Stories

'Leadership and management - chalk and cheese'

'There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit,
compounded of personality and vision; its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, a matter
of accurate calculation - its practice is a science. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential.'
Field Marshall Lord Slim, when Governor-General of Australia

Leadership and management are as different as chalk and cheese. My views have formed over many years as a UK healthcare manager and, particularly, as a result of my research on leadership from the perspective of family doctors (1997-1998).

Good managers do not necessarily make good leaders, and good leaders do not necessarily make good managers. Each has a distinct role. Leadership qualities are far less tangible and measurable whilst most management processes can be measured. Perhaps this is best summed up by Warren Bennis:

'Managers do things right . . . leaders do the right things.'

There is clearly something about effective leaders that makes them stand out from the crowd. I find it impossible to identify and quantify that elusive quality. When I look back through my own career, I have had superiors who are clearly leaders and those who are clearly managers. From my experience with my own past bosses, I have noted that . . .


1) Have high levels of integrity

2) Are focused on the bigger picture

3) Are not comfortable with "intense detail"

4) Make me (their direct reports) feel part of their vision

5) Do not punish mistakes - but, rather, see mistakes as learning opportunities

6) Challenge the status quo

7) Are not afraid of being unpopular


1) Are process driven

2) Are comfortable with detail

3) Are more interested in the bottom line than the wider vision

4) Want to measure everything

5) Are not comfortable challenging the corporate view

I think the difference is around the words 'hard' and 'soft.' My experience of effective managers is they tend to be very good at the hard stuff. They are concerned with measurable outcomes - sometime obsessed with process at all costs. They appear to be driven by the need to prove their effectiveness in some tangible way. But leaders, on the other hand, are also interested in the soft stuff - the immeasurable, the anecdote, the story.

One downfall of focusing only on the hard stuff can be seen in the following example.

One day, a manager was very stressed and volunteered up information to a colleague that he was worried about the annual staff appraisals he ' had to do ' for his department. A few days later, the pair met again and the manager was now relaxed. He explained that he had completed all of the appraisals - he had taken out appraisal files, ticked boxes, and updated them without speaking to members of his staff. As far as he was concerned, he'd done what was expected if him - he had ' done his appraisals, ' literally filling in forms and ticking boxes.

Effective leaders, in my experience, are generally not as interested in the detail of process but, rather, they need to be assured there is a process. Paradoxically, oftentimes, the effective leader will be interested in some things that may appear trivial to ' non-leaders. ' For example, many of us have worked in organisations that proclaim:

'We value our staff'

'We are an equal opportunities employer'

'We value diversity'

Picture a wet, cold, and dark winter morning - a 6 a.m. early morning shift for a cleaner who parks his or her car in the staff parking lot 200 yards from the staff entrance. As he/she fights her way through the cold wind and rain to the building entrance, the cleaner notices the empty car park spaces reserved for Directors, Consultants, and Chief Executive, positioned immediately outside the main entrance. The cleaner cannot help him/herself from thinking that the company's mission statement somehow just doesn't ring true.

The effective leader will be interested in the feelings of that cleaner. Quite often, the leader will solve the problem. But even if the leader cannot solve the problem, the fact that the leader is interested at all will spread around the organisation quicker than the speed of light. Small things are important - leadership is not only about the big picture.

In my experience, good leaders surround themselves with people who buy into their vision. And leaders always seem to be striving for improvement and, though not a 'change junkie,' good leaders constantly question the status quo. We can learn a great deal about management and leadership - particularly about leaders' unquenchable thirst for improvement - by studying sport.

It is interesting that in the first media interview with Alex Ferguson, leader of Manchester United, after United won the Premiership Trophy for the eighth time in eleven years, Ferguson was full of references to 'how we need to improve this team for next season.' Ferguson is formally called the 'Manager' of Manchester United; however, to me, he is clearly the ' leader ' of the team. I suspect he is not interested in the intricate processes involved in running one of the biggest sporting organisations in the world. But at the same time there are legendary tales of his detailed knowledge of what goes on in and around the club. It is also interesting that he has achieved his current high standing without formal management training - aside from 'The University of Life.'

Another famous football 'Manager' was Bill Shankly of Liverpool Football Club. Shankly spoke the immortal words 'Always change a winning team' - an interesting variation of the better-known saying 'Never change a winning team.' Again, Shankly was a leader with an impressive list of achievements - yet his formal management training was probably nil.

Both of these leaders possess an ability to inspire others to sign up to their vision, which separates the leaders from the managers. Somehow these leaders inspire followers who will go the extra mile. I suggest it is not - in their case - an academic understanding of the science of management or leadership. It is probably some personal characteristic that is not tangible.

Finally, I would suggest that leaders are generally born - not made. I doubt that people can learn how to be a leader from reading, studying, or listening to lectures. There is something that makes leaders stand out from the rest of us. Leadership training is worthwhile - it is possible to teach leadership techniques, and leadership competencies are becoming more widely used in management academia. I suspect that what emerges through the 'leadership development' process will be good managers who become good leaders. But the outstanding, natural leader will not need that training. Some of the greatest leaders in history never received training in the art of leadership - it came to them naturally and we should celebrate that mystical quality - even if we cannot measure it.

At the same time, let us remember that leaders are in the minority and most of us mere mortals are very effective foot soldiers (and we should celebrate this!). Many would argue that wars are won by foot soldiers - not colonels. There is no question that managers and leaders are both important - both play crucial roles in organisations. But likewise, it is important to acknowledge that good managers and good leaders are not one and the same.

'Leaders say this is where we are going' and 'Managers say this is how we are going to get there'

Written by Trevor Gay

Trevor Gay, MA Management (Healthcare) is an independent leadership and management coach, trainer, consultant and author with a self confessed obsession for simplicity and liberating front line staff. Trevor's career from age 16 was spent in National Health Service management until he decided to leave the NHS in 2004. He now enjoys the independence to express his views and reflect on what he has learned both from his 30 years' practical experience as a manager and his academic study of leadership and management. You can contact Trevor by e-mail at . . . trevor.simplicity@gmail.com

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