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Honouring the contrast between leadership and management

The topic of leadership is at the forefront of various models and strategic plans amongst law enforcement organizations. Despite being recognized as a key factor to success and human resource wellness, “leadership” remains an elusive and poorly understood subject, often blurred by a number of myths.

February 22, 2019  By Isabelle Sauve

Leadership is a term and concept that defies consensus in measurement and definition. Police models have also mistakenly attempted to rhetorically and blindly communicate the “everyone is a leader” strategy. The words “leadership” and “management” are frequently used interchangeably, further complicating the topic. However, being a manager does not make one a leader simply by virtue of a position held.

While leadership and management are distinct and multifaceted concepts, they are both vital to an organization. Studies suggest they are closely related but with distinguishable, albeit sometimes overlapping functions. Leaders essentially guide the direction and speed of the ship. Managers keep the ship operating smoothly.

A great disservice is done when agencies assume leadership and management skills automatically follow with promotion. Some officers in management capacities have poor leadership and management qualities with long term repercussions, and with the potential of developing an unhealthy work environment. In those cases, subordinates tend to follow orders strictly out of obligation rather than out of inspiration or admiration. Leaders are followed out of respect for what they represent. Inspiration, self-confidence, vision, communication skills and ability to challenge are traits leaders usually possess.

Leadership is often associated with words like dynamic, risk taking, change, creativity and vision, while management is associated with control, efficiency, procedures, paperwork, planning, regulation, and consistency. According to The Wall Street Journal, a performing manager… “establishes appropriate targets and yardsticks, and analyzes, appraises and interprets performance. Managers understand the people they work with and know which person is the best fit for a specific task.” The most successful or respected managers also tend to display strong leadership skills.


Effective management and effective leadership are necessary for the success of an organization. Strong leadership but weak management can be detrimental. A proper balance between the two is crucial.

Organizations should focus on building competence over competencies, as well as on promoting organizational goals and vision over personal agendas. By acutely contrasting leadership and management, we can understand and improve the distinct roles and functions.

Limited empirical efforts have been devoted to how police leadership is developed and manifested. Common themes, however, have been expressed. For example, leadership involves influencing others through demeanor, power, charisma and other behaviour.

To understand leadership, it is important to examine some of its key components. Firstly, leadership is contextual. Individuals need specific situations to shine as leaders. Subsequently, leadership is a process, not a position. It is not the direct result of title or position; it is the result of interactions between leaders and followers. Practically, it can be exercised by the young and old in junior and senior positions of an organization or a community.

Leadership is also both a science and an art. It is both rational and emotional; leaders need a proper balance between emotional and rational responses and actions. On the other hand, a number of myths hinder leadership development in many organizations. For example, the idea that good leadership is common sense. “Common sense” is an ambiguous term that is often misleading and in fact isn’t common at all.

Leaders need to consider what “common sense” suggests, but they also have to make hard decisions contrary to prevailing views, be humble in the face of uncertainty, and change direction when the need is recognized. One of the challenges of leadership may well be to know when common sense applies and when it does not.

Another myth is that leaders are born, not made. It is true leaders start with key innate personality traits; however, leadership skills are enhanced based on experience, training and exposure to situations. They typically shine as a result of an engrained and genuine devotion to a cause, topic or subject of interest.

Finally, the belief true leadership is only developed in the “school of hard knocks” is false. While there may be some truth to this approach, developing different perspectives and insights through formal study and training can enhance leadership skills. The formal study of leadership can make one more discerning and better able to analyze experiences through different perspectives, as well as adopt a wider range of tools to draw from.

This type of formal learning should be offered throughout every police officer’s career as understanding leadership theories can allow leaders to become even more effective.

Isabelle Sauve is a 11-year OPP veteran currently with the Emergency Response Team (ERT) at the Almaguin Highlands Detachment in Burks Falls, about 300 km north of Toronto. She can be contacted at:

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