This question crops up often in our conversations with new clients. It shows, perhaps, how prevalent the image of leadership development as a luxury item for organizations still appears to be. Another misconception we still come across is that ‘leadership’ applies to higher levels of work whereas at lower levels it’s just ‘management’.
Our standpoint, based on the views of Elliott Jaques and others, is that ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ are part of the same equation. Managerial leadership applies to all organizational levels down to first-line supervision. What differs is the scope of the managerial leadership challenge at each organizational level.
For example, at the front-line of production or customer service leadership is about setting the context of what the department, factory assembly line or call centre customer service team needs to achieve in order for the overall organization to reach its strategic goals. At this first level of leadership, the leader provides the authority and expertise to solve problems which cannot be addressed by standard operating procedures. Further up the line, the departmental or functional manager creates the blueprint for maintaining and constantly improving work processes whereby the design and delivery of products or services need to comply with agreed standards of quantity, quality and cost. At the strategic level, the search for new markets and product diversification calls for the managerial leader to translate his or her world view into operational reality for the organization’s workforce.
At each level the core leadership accountabilities – selection and development of employees, task delegation and context-setting, coordinating and motivating team efforts – are fundamentally the same. The need to get everyone cooperating, pulling in the same direction and optimizing their performance and commitment is equally critical at all levels. The differences in scope of leadership challenge as one rises in the organization call for differentiated levels of cognitive capability, and this forms an essential part of the process of assessing and developing people for current and future leadership roles, ensuring that people are matched to the right level of leadership role for their current capabilities and that future plans for development are based on the maturation of their future potential capabilities.