Blue Line


March 1, 2015  By Chris D. Lewis

“It’s a leadership issue, Chris,” the manager argued. I whole-heartedly disagreed, maintaining the policy problem we were debating was a management issue, and soon received the hateful glare senior officers reserve for underlings who dare disagree with them.

What truly terrified me was that a person in such a very senior position didn’t begin to understand the difference between management and leadership. This debate occurred 10 years ago but I wonder how many so-called leaders can differentiate between these skills even today.

“Management is your day job; leadership is your career,” observed author John Baldoni. Similarly I often say, “You manage things, but you lead people.”

I always ask classes if there’s a difference between management and leadership. They generally agree that differences exist, but very few can actually define them. “Leadership is hard” is one answer that really caught my attention.


I’m sure that comment will offend most managers but dealing with real people and their emotions, agendas, personalities, egos, motivators and so much more is undoubtedly more demanding to true leaders than manuals and ledgers. I’d never profess that being a manager is a cake-walk, as it has never really been my strong suit. I was always fortunate to have strong managers that I trusted to advise me on policy, budget and process decisions.

In my view, and I probably read this somewhere years ago so I apologize to whoever inspired my thoughts – leaders are more visionary and motivating, actually caring about substance while seeing a bigger picture. Managers focus more on planning, efficiency, form and process, ensuring that people adhere to checks and balances.

There is no doubt that many leaders are good managers and many managers have the ability to lead. People simply aren’t exclusively just one or the other, thank God, but the two skill-sets are not interchangeable.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis is one of the best. His slant on the issue is something like this. When a manager administers, a leader innovates. A manager is a copy where a leader is an original. The manager maintains, while the leader develops. Managers focus on systems and structure. Leaders focus on people. The manager relies on control, when the leader inspires trust in the people he/she leads.

Managers ask “how and when,” while the leader asks “what and why.” While the manager has an eye on the bottom-line, the leader eyes the horizon. Managers more often accept the status quo and the leader challenges it. The manager does things right while the leader does the right things.

My friend and former boss, retired Barrie PS Chief Wayne Frechette, was a leader and although not an incapable manager, management was not his forte. When it came to knowing policy, budgeting and administration, Wayne’s favourite saying was, “We’ve got people for that”.

He once caught the ire of his deputy while still a chief superintendent in the OPP by ordering an inspector to drive to Toronto and purchase a few dozen laptop computers from an electronic wholesaler. We needed them, had the money in the CIB budget and Wayne was tired of waiting for proper government procurement processes to kick-in, which we all knew would cost two or three times as much money – but that was the policy.

The men and women in the CIB loved Wayne’s decision but I’m sure it ended up giving the deputy a bleeding ulcer. Was it a good management decision? Not at all. Did the world come crashing to an end over it? No – it actually met our dire operational needs, saved thousands of tax dollars and Wayne won the hearts and souls of his people in the process. Leadership or management?

I once read a list of U.S. Marine Corps leadership quotes, but do not recall the source. One that sticks out in my mind is: When a project turns sour, the manager asks, “Who is responsible?” Leaders say “I am.” The true leader will take the hit when the occasional decision goes bad, but when things go well – as they often do, the leader will let the light shine on those they have the honour to lead.

Many of the leaders we study to this day are long gone: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Sir John A. MacDonald, Gandhi, Mandela, Churchill… and many more, but we still remember what they did to lead people and/or entire nations.

Have you ever gone into a town square and observed a majestic stone monument of a person standing tall or riding the back of a sculptured horse whilst brandishing a sword? I’m sure you also took the time to read the inscription on the plaque. Did it ever, even once, reference the name of a great “manager”? I think not.

In his article, author Steve Keating says:
“Believing that managing and leading are one in the same is very, very outdated thinking. You manage “stuff.” You lead people.”

Every organization needs both managers and leaders. Sometimes those two very different skill sets can belong to the same person but it should never be assumed that a skilled manager is, or will become, a skilled leader.”

I do truly believe that organizations, including police services, need strong managers. Someone needs to know policy, manage budgets, ensure diary dates are kept, oversee the business planning cycle, administer procurement processes, ensure records are properly kept and much more. These are all vital matters for any organization, private or public sector. However, the leaders therein will get us through the tough times, supported by strong managers. One skillset will often complement the other.

Think back to your very best supervisor, boss, coach, teacher or mentor and how they encouraged you to be great and do great things. Do you recall if they knew how to manage a budget? Did they know policy inside and out? How about forms and processes and when or how to follow them?

Now think of the worst leader you worked for and the negative impact they had on your will, pride, self-confidence and drive to succeed. Did any of the things they said or did to drag you down have anything to do with management ability? I think not. It’s the people skills of the good and bad that have the greatest positive or negative affect.

In a perfect world, all police leaders would have the right mix of leadership and management skills but in the real world, I’d take the leader any day of the week. The leader will build morale, encourage innovation, communicate, build trust and inspire people to be the very best they can be.

Leaders need the support of good managers to provide solid advice on policy, systems and process matters and ensure the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed – where feasible. That is all important to organizational success, but it is leadership that will get us through the tough times.

Print this page


Stories continue below