Management by Coercion; Leadership by Consent

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1 min read

How commercial and voluntary organisations treat their staff significantly influences their effectiveness and their bottom line.

In any organisation there are people responsible for other people. In some, everything runs smoothly, staff are settled, they know what they’re doing and are happy to be there. In others, there is an undercurrent of distrust, a feeling of resentment, chaos, high workforce turnover, disillusionment. I know which type of organisation I’d want to be associated with, but how do you reach that ideal?

First of all, it’s important to note that Management and Leadership are not the same things.

“Management” is required to ensure predefined tasks and operations are carried out. The menu of what is required is usually set out and there is an orderly structure. Management relies on system and structure, and decisions are based on a framework. Management is usually a hierarchy, and the backbone is organisation.

“Leadership” is about showing people what can be achieved or the outcomes. It focuses on getting the best out of people and their abilities and allows decisions to be made by individuals. Leadership doesn’t have to be in a hierarchy or structure but builds on mutual trust. The backbone of Leadership is communication.

Organisations who operate on a management structure often give responsibility to individual “managers” to ensure that certain tasks are achieved, and there is little empathy for the workforce, as the task is the most important thing; the people are relatively disposable.

However, organisations who operate with leadership in mind become a natural team with a common set of goals and mutual support. Individuals are recognised for the value they contribute, and they also recognise their own limitations without seeing those as failures.

Sometimes a person who has leadership principles is also a manager in a hierarchy. This can be an uncomfortable position to be in; the leader-manager creates a true team within the people for whom they’re responsible, and this works really well. However, the leader-manager also has to operate in a management hierarchy that expects results, and whilst they play that game, they’re also protecting their own team from that harsher negativity.

This becomes it's most stressful in organisations where the customer is the dependent on the team side and the organisation structure is self-serving instead of being a support structure. This is particularly seen in voluntary organisations where a local team is mutually supportive of each other and providing service to their clients, but the management structure is mistaken in the belief that the local team works for them, rather than their duty to provide the support to the local team.

Is it any wonder that the people who practice leadership in local charities or youth groups feel they’re put under enormous pressure to deliver those services to their community, but also are expected to feed the ego of the “support” organisation, which often becomes top-heavy and bureaucratic, and highly focused on ensuring their structure and hierarchy are maintained, at the expense of the needs (and energy) of those on the ground?

So back to the title of this article:

Management can often be (and is frequently) a coercive approach, with directives, criticism, and blame. It’s attractive because there is a level of control throughout and for many people throughout this hierarchy, this is OK because they know where they stand, they don’t have to make decisions and responsibility can always be transferred upwards or downwards. Not to denigrate sheep, but some people are happier in a herd and follow unquestioningly.

On the other hand, leadership can be scary and seemingly out of control. It requires a huge level of trust and consent in both directions and has much more woolly boundaries. But the team knits together far stronger than under a coercive approach. Everyone knows what they need to do and can make decisions without being shepherded along.

So take note, organisations who wonder why their people are so disgruntled, underperforming, or just hard work to engage. Maybe allowing your people to become a team, not a herd, will bring you those elusive changes to productivity and retention.

Now, anyone for roast potatoes and mint sauce?...

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