‘Teaching’ Leadership


By Hugh Davenport, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Northampton

Leadership is one of the most hotly debated and discussed areas in both organisations and academic circles. Yet there still seems to be a paucity of good, effective leaders. One only has to peruse a few surveys to understand this predicament and its impact upon organisational well-being.

One of the problems is that lots of us (my students, my colleagues, my institution) confuse good and effective management behaviour with it being competent Leadership…....so when “we” talk about (and teach) Leadership, people can confuse it with simply being a specific branch and sub-category of Management.

I think it was Tom Peters who made the point that there should be more “job titles” with the word 'Leader' in them and fewer with the word 'Manager'. Warren Bennis pretty much said the same thing – “What we need going into the 21st Century is more leaders and fewer managers.” So I try to unpick this sentiment with my students and question why Tom or Warren would have said these things. What exactly are they driving at?

The picture is still confused on many reputable websites. In their section “Organisations and People”, strategy-business.com have an article called “21st Century Leadership: Redefining Management Education: Educating Managers in the Modern Era”…so are we talking about Leadership here or simply redefining what Managers do? Is good and effective leadership one and the same as good and effective management?

In an interview with Jeremy Paxman, Bill Gates was at pains to stress that he was very much a leader BUT did need to surround himself with really good managers to implement his vision at the ground level, at the coal face with frontline workers. He was making the point that he did see the two disciplines as different but both as essential in effective organisations.

Warren Bennis discussed the differences between effective managers and effective leaders on many occasions and created a “whirlwind of controversy” in 1989 with his “simplistic” listing of the differences between the two disciplines…as juxtaposed pairings:

  • “The manager administers, the leader innovates.”
  • “The manager is a copy, the leader is an original.”
  • “The manager maintains, the leader develops.”

The list is much longer but the last pairing seems to hint at the more esoteric nature of the differences!

  • “The manager does things right, the leader does the right thing.”

More recently people have added many more words, phrases and descriptions to the debate about what it is to be an effective leader and how this might be different from simply managing. Such words and concepts as engagement, transformation, empowerment, openness (to new ideas), honesty, integrity, trust, inspiring change, developing a sense of connection and belonging, fostering organisational learning, nurturing growth…

Indeed many theories, models and frameworks have been developed around Emotional Leadership, Engaging Leadership and Intent-Based Leadership to name but a few. A brief sortie onto Amazon (or into your local bookshop, much better!) will reveal a whole plethora of other “sexy” books about and around leadership. It is written by football managers, industry leaders, rugby legends, academics, cricket captains, USS Naval Captains, management gurus, and even film directors. Today we speak about leadership freely. It is a word which is embedded into the very fabric of organisations and society.

If we can agree that great leadership is different from great management and if we can agree what constitutes that great leadership - then how indeed do we teach some of these more esoteric, slippery and “difficult to get hold of” leadership concepts, skills and ideas?

Or is it more about fostering, developing, nurturing some of these leadership competencies throughout the duration of an Undergraduate degree rather than teaching leadership on a specific module. How should we “teach” Emotional Intelligence”, a core gateway to many leadership skills. How do we nurture the idea of integrity or foster openness, honesty and trust into leadership practice?

Or is this type of Leadership development simply better left to the organisations who so desperately want these leaders of the future?