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Leadership Is Not Management

And why we need to know the difference in order to work well as teams and grow any organization.

April 27, 2021

Any pastor, ministry leader or head of department feels the weight of leadership and the demands of management. And it is easy to aggregate it together as if it is one function. It is not. They are two separate functions which demand different competencies and capacities.

When these functions are aggregated, what we will witness is a tension of purposes and often even a stalemate. Any senior position comes with daunting expectations, and often what happens is that energies are basically expended trying to meet the expectations and fight the fires that come with it.

A clarity about the difference in these two functions, and a self-awareness regarding one’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial for any leader to succeed and their organization to thrive.

There are many definitions and angles for which leadership has been studied and hence defined. But we all know instinctively that it is about direction, movement, and a sense of purpose. It involves galvanizing resources, uniting people, championing outcomes. Most importantly, it is about overcoming hurdles, so that a group, team or organization experiences growth.

This is related to, but also needs to be contrasted from the homeostatic function of managing. Management at heart is about stability, safety and structure. It’s higher order principle or desired outcome is to be in control so that things are, for want of a better word, ‘managed’.

Good management is important. It creates a sense of home with clear boundaries, values and systems. To parallel the basic unit of society, the family, a stable home allows one to feel secure to explore the world, and to know there is a welcome waiting for the world weary soul.

Too many are hurt by dysfunctions and toxicity which often result from weak management where expectations are vague, and communication and feedback structures are not in place.

A home however, can become a prison.

In Asia (and in certain authority systems), consensual decision making is revered. This way of decision making seeks to allow time for different perspectives and even conflicting viewpoints to come to a place of agreement and/or acquiescence.

There is much to be said about this approach, especially as it contributes to the homeostatic outcome desired.

Consensual decision-making can at times be counterproductive when it is really a conflict-avoidance tactic masked as management. In this case, it is mismanagement. In such circumstances, the resultant decision is often a pale shade of what is best as it becomes held hostage to the denominator of least resistance.

The corrective to this is leadership, which is about mission, movement and momentum.

It is oxymoronic to expect leadership to be consensual. The skilled leader can adopt a facilitative posture to draw out responses, but he or she must have the gumption to assume the charge given and discharge it with conviction.

Leadership calls for a vision and a voice. It is essential to pivot from managing to leading which is where growth, exploration and risk must occur.

Of course, quite often, scenarios calls for a nimble shift between the two functions. But it remains essential not to confuse them.

Rev. Jenni Ho-Huan is the Managing Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, who desires to live with authenticity and help others develop a vibrant faith-life in their particular circumstances and personalities through a strong inner life.

ChurchLife Resources provides Staff Coaching for churches to coach and guide them in their roles, improve leadership skills, manage conflicts, and create a healthy staff culture. For more information, visit: 
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