Leadership vs. Management: They aren’t opposites

Sam LeDeaux wrote a nice post over at Connected Principals about leaders and managers. In the post he compares leaders and managers and makes the case that being a leader is preferable to that of manager. Leaders bring progress, and managers stifle it.

Based on some reading I did for a graduate course I just finished in the University of Kentucky’s School Technology Leadership program, I disagree with saying that leadership is preferred to management. They are two different types of activities, and both serve a crucial need in our schools. Here is my response to Sam’s post:



Thanks for putting this post out there. It has caused some needed reflection and reaction for those of us who lead and manage. I agree with your point that there are heads of organizations who encourage growth and success, and there are those who discourage creativity and inhibit people from doing good work.

I would like to add to this discussion by sharing the work of Joseph Rost who examined a vast amount of literature on the topic of leadership. In his book “Leadership for the 21st Century,” he gave definition to the terms leadership and management that I think are very applicable to school leaders. He describes both as relationships. Leadership is (paraphrasing here) an influence relationship among leaders and followers for the purpose of causing real change in the world. Management is also a relationship but it is among managers and their subordinates for the purpose of coordinating their activities to create specific products. Management typically occurs along hierarchical lines in an organization and is often top-down. Leadership can occur among many different people in an organization and is multi-directional. No matter the titles of people in an organization, leadership can occur when one influences another to produce significant change.

Rost also cautioned readers to not put leadership and management opposite one another. Leadership is not the ideal state as compared to management. In the context of schools, we need good management (according to Rost’s definition) as part of leadership. Management activities produce schedules that work, rules that support our staff and students, bus routes that run on time, and pay checks to be accurate and timely. Effective management is important for a school to run well. Without management, can leadership (a relationship that leads to real change) really occur? Leadership is needed in our schools as we are asked to significantly change our practice. Leadership brings about mutual purpose and inspiration to allow change to happen. The conditions that allow leadership to occur are predicated on good management already being in place. Without good management, leadership just can’t happen. I certainly see leadership as key for school success in the 21st century, but it can’t happen without all that management brings.

Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Curt (school principal in Wisconsin)

5 thoughts on “Leadership vs. Management: They aren’t opposites

  1. Thanks, Curt, for your contribution to the rich discussion! I appreciate your willingness to share!

  2. Hey Pal,

    Just a quick note to say thanks for sharing this. I always struggle with the difference between leadership and management — but you’ve detailed it in an incredibly approachable way here.

    Also, here’s to hoping you have the Merriest of Christmases with your family! Really jazzed that I had the chance to meet you in person this year and here’s to hoping that our paths continue to cross in 2014.

    Rock right on,

  3. I think there are a couple of challenges in schools.

    1. Leadership and management abilities are not often recognized as separate but equally important skillsets.

    So we sometimes end up with people who are in roles labelled as leadership positions that are actually management roles. These people may or may not be effective managers as it is, and their leadership is easily questioned and critiqued.

    2. Leadership is often equated with seniority or length of time in service.

    With a variety of results in quality of said leadership

    3. Management skills can often be learnt on the job, as can leadership, but both require different approaches to how they become part of our personal practice.

    We need to be careful to ensure these attributes are recognized and fostered appropriately, by organisational processes such as appraisals and PD options for our people.

  4. I find your statement, “Without management, leadership isn’t possible,” very refreshing. I find that a few bad management experiences have tainted the word itself. It’s definitely important to have management in a school because without the essential items being managed, organized, and handled, leadership and a school vision are impossible to accomplish.

  5. Kylene – Thanks for reading my thoughts and for the comment. I hadn’t really ever thought about the relationship between management and leadership until we had to read Rost in one of my grad classes. Makes total sense to me. Nobody cares much about creative and visionary leaders if employees don’t have needed work supplies and their paychecks are wrong/late.

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