Teach & Serve III, No. 15 – Management and Leadership

Teach & Serve III, No. 15

Management and Leadership

November 15, 2017

Managers direct by telling. Leaders invite by inspiring.

At a leadership seminar a few weeks back, I heard a great story about dealing with one of a school’s most favorite days of the year: Halloween. I was asking the group with which I was working if they had to jump right back into work when they returned from our week-long seminar and one of the members of the cohort said, with noticeable relief, not only did she not have any school-related, weekend responsibilities (our seminar ended on a Friday morning), she did not have to teach Monday or Tuesday of the following week because her school would be closed.

Why? I asked.

Because we don’t want to deal with Halloween, so the principal shuts us down. She said.

What a nifty thing to do. Talk about a great way to deal with what can be a perennial issue at a co-ed high school. Nicely done, I thought.

Nicely managed.

Another conversation I had during that same leadership seminar struck me as well. One of my colleagues on the seminar was talking about a task she had been given. She was to serve on an interview committee for a school presidency. She was emailed a list of questions to ask, told the time frame she had to ask them and ordered to report to an office to interview candidates at a prescribed date. Whoever invited her on the committee missed the mark. Poorly done, I thought.

Poorly led.

There is a difference between leadership and management and school leaders would be well served to understand that and to know when to apply which skill. Good leaders have skills related to leadership and skills related to management. The Venn Diagram between the two overlaps, to be sure. Management and leadership are not polar opposites.  But they are different.

Management deals with the mechanics of getting things done, of making lists and checking off items, of tackling immediate issues. Leadership deals with thinking big picture, challenging boundaries, defining mission.

Managers direct by telling. Leaders invite by inspiring.

The Halloween situation I mentioned above was well handled, well managed. Perhaps dealing with this scenario did not require leadership, but management. Leadership applied here may have asked broader questions, considered why Halloween was an issue at the school, sought to engage outside-the-box thinking for a solution. Likely that would have been an unnecessary approach.

Similarly, the situation with the teacher asked to be on the committee needed more leadership than management. The teacher was managed, to be sure. But the process cried out for leadership, for vision and inclusion, for broader thinking. Applying management was a miss. Though the interview process likely went well, there was a chance for it to be better.

I believe excellent leaders, when confronted by leadership tasks, ask themselves “is this a leadership opportunity or a management situation?” This is a natural question to them. It is automatic. Then they readily apply the best process. Good school leaders know how to balance management and leadership. They know when to employ which. They know that some situations call for leadership. Others call for management. Excellent leaders switch easily through both.

And, when in doubt, err on the side of leadership. Management, while important, should not be a leader’s default position. Leadership should be.

Pretty simple, right?

It’s just like handling Halloween in a high school or setting up an interview committee… But do not believe there is a right way or a wrong way. There is not.

There is a better way or a worse way, though. Good leaders know the difference.