Thinking broadly and critically in relation to others

What do we mean when we say leadership – and how is it different from management? Management focuses on behaviour and results and getting things done through planning, organising, monitoring and controlling, whereas leadership is more about what people think, value and feel – and how these things are linked to the environment, the unit and the job.

Going over every detail. Photo: iStock.com

Managers and subordinates are not the same as leaders and followers. A leader is someone who understands the context, the meaning of a culture and the local conditions, who maintains reciprocity in relationships, incorporates the complexity of the organisation, avoids getting stuck in abstract ideals – and understands that leadership is about hearts and minds.

Devoting time to understanding and interpreting

“Leadership is about relationships, and it is not only important what managers do, but how employees relate to it. Most managers are sensitive to their employees’ perceptions, and leadership efforts are often formed by expectations, demands and resistance. If they believe that someone will oppose their attempt to influence, managers adjust their leadership accordingly,” says Stefan Sveningsson, professor of Business Administration.

Read more: Instead of management candy: tools, understanding and reflection

The literature on leadership is extensive. However, unlike the majority of the work which is solely based on what managers and employees themselves have said and responded in surveys, researchers at the School of Economics and Management have observed interactions, conducted in-depth interviews, devoted time to understanding the organisational context and critically interpreted these results.

Reflexive leadership – where both senior and junior employees carefully consider the structure of the organisation and how leadership and other aspects can make the workplace work well – is emphasised in particular: to think broadly and critically about your own thoughts and actions in relation to others.

“We should ask ourselves: what is the problem? What is the solution? Perhaps we should focus less on the manager and more on collaboration between qualified colleagues,” says Mats Alvesson, professor of organisation and leadership, and among the most cited organisation researchers in the world.

Read more: “Leadership is overestimated; rely more on employees”