What’s in a name?

The 400th Anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare is being celebrated this year in the United Kingdom and around the world. Although he died four centuries ago, the language of Shakespeare through his quotes, words and plays endure in English and many translations today.  One of my favourites is Juliet’s question to Romeo:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Juliet is implying of course that the names of Montagu and Capulet are not important in the context of their love. But to the Montagues and Capulets, their titles and names are of immense importance and in the contemporary world, names and labels are still significant.

One of the areas that prompts much debate is the difference between leaders, managers and, in the military, commanders. Dealing with the last one first, Commanders have important roles in the military. They have responsibility and authority. Vitally they have the power and legal authority to impose punishment and, significantly for the military, they can, in certain conditions and in accordance with the rules of engagement, authorise the use of lethal force. But basically, a commander is an appointment much like a CEO. According to the organisation’s criteria, anybody can be appointed to such a position and it is how they execute their responsibilities that make the difference. Management skills and leadership – one hopes – are attributes that the appointed individual uses to deliver success. An unscientific and cursory search of Google Scholar reveals about 81,000 results for “management” and 45,000 for “leadership” and that’s just since 2015 so it would be difficult to make any pronouncements with certainty about either quality. So the best I can do is to give my take on them.

I feel that management, basically, is about the control of resources. The vital resources of any endeavour are materials (including finance), personnel and time known, in an un-PC world, as men, materials and minutes.  How they are allocated and prioritised are the core issue of management. They will always be in short supply, they will always have conflicting demands on them and their allocation is vital. If management is about the allocation of resources, what then for leadership?

We have all seen an almost endless list of attributes that make up a leader and the models of leadership have waxed and waned throughout its study in this century and the one before. It is perhaps foolish then to attempt to boil it down to a single element but I’m going to give it a try. Fundamentally I believe that leadership is about persuasion.  So why should leadership be considered in such simple terms?  When you lead a motivated, enthusiastic team, leadership is relatively easy but leaders only really earn their money when they have to get teams or individuals to do something that they don’t want to do. That is why change and transformation can be the contexts in which leadership is most important.  Persuasion can be thought of being at the opposite end of a continuum to coercion, the metaphorical carrot and stick and coercion can be a successful technique but persuasion is much more durable. Coercion can only be successful to the point where the coerced believes that the punishment or censure are sufficient to outweigh their reluctance to complete the task.

Leadership is really called for when trying to get individuals or the team to do something they don’t want to do – and I believe persuasion is the only enduring way that can be achieved or to quote Shakespeare again, “Strong reasons make strong actions.”

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