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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)

~ by Curt Rees on December 18, 2013 .

2 Responses to “Leadership vs. Management: They aren’t opposites”

  1.   Sam LeDeaux @sledeaux84 Says:

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

  2.   Bill Ferriter Says:

    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,

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