Management and leadership are frequently portrayed as being polar opposites and radically different (Kotter, 2013).
Management is the operational administration of systems and processes essential to the smooth day-to-day running of the school. It’s about planning, stability, making the best use of resources and knowing how to get things done.
Leadership is more strategic and glamorous focused on vision, change, motivation, setting the purpose and direction, the future and transformation. It’s about inspiring, building the enthusiasm and knowing what to do.
Leadership is seen as a much bigger and deeper role than management.
But not everyone agrees on these binary definitions because there isn’t actually a clear, universal delineation of the skills believed to designate leadership and management. Some argue that schools need to be led rather than managed (Stein, 2013).
And here lies the problem: there remains in education an abstraction of two concepts with no consensus and little application. For example, Hodgkinson (1991) notes the concept of leadership “is not so much vacuous as protean, impenetrable, elusive and delusive … which makes it very difficult to handle in a rigorous manner”.
What might appear to define leadership is often seen in another definition of management.
They are both ambiguous words that mean many different things are so are polysemous.
Separating leadership and management can be a bit misleading and unhelpful. There are leaders, there are managers, and sometimes they are the same person.
The literature is written as management vs leadership but the reality is that their functions flow in a continuum as interchangeable processes that are not separable.
Headteachers both lead and manage their schools and it is time to abandon the idea that leading and managing are distinct responsibilities as they are embodied in one person (Thorpe and Gold, 2010).
The Hybrid Head
Whitehead (2017) and Machin (2020) argue that the contemporary school leader must be a hybrid leader. This blends management, leadership and pedagogue and rather than occupying a singular professional identity, leaders move between organisational demands situationally. They have the emotional and cognitive flexibility to move between identities and can execute a wider repertoire of responses.
What is refreshing about the best evidence work of Coe et al (2022) is that they join leadership and management together rather than artificially separate them. They note that management is often seen as the poor relation of leadership which they argue isn’t healthy:
We see this distinction as not helpful, nor conceptually sustainable, nor supported by good evidence: ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ practices are inextricably linked. They are two similar skill sets that frequently overlap with each other and are equal partners in a school’s success.
Both leadership and management should be prized with no special value attached to either as they share an intimate connection and are central to motivating people and giving a sense of purpose to a school.
Even though they are not the same thing, you cannot separate leadership and management. They are two halves of the ‘same coin’ as they are closely linked and complementary to one another. They exist in tandem and overlap.
As Scouller (2011) notes,
“But here is the key point: leadership and management are not separate. And they are not necessarily done by different people. It’s not a case of, ‘You are either a manager or a leader’. Leadership and management overlap.”
Effective schools need headteachers that can plan, organise and coordinate their staff, as well as inspire and motivate them to perform to the best of their ability.
Headteachers don’t cross over from being a manager to a leader, they lead the school as well as manage its day-to-day operation. Leadership always includes responsibility for managing.
Management and leadership are not just complementary, they are really the same concept used to describe different levels of a taxonomy related to organisational effectiveness or performance.
The leadership and management dichotomy is a false one as their functions blur into one role and a continuum of a single construct.
Developing the skills of both a leader and a manager are really the same way of developing individuals who can adapt to change and become a source of organisational advantage.
Kent (2005) notes the functions of leaders and managers can be studied separately, but “in reality, they reside within and are practiced by single individuals.”