There are clear distinctions between Leadership and Management, aren’t there? We often hear statements like “managers do things right, but leaders do the right thing.”

As a Gestalt practitioner, I’m interested in complicating the distinctions between categories like this, especially when they have become deadened by overused assumptions. In Gestalt psychology, the distinctions between what we see cognitively or perceptually and what we take for granted as background are never as fixed or impermeable as they might initially seem.

I believe that the oft-repeated distinction between managers and leaders may well fall into this more ambiguous category. Another way of putting this is to say that the distinction between the two may be more fluid than our assumptions allow us to appreciate – a fluidity that could open the door to some intriguing ambiguities. Sometimes, novelty only becomes possible when we allow ourselves to dissolve our assumed categorisations.

This, of course, can never be “total”. If we dissolve the frame through which we view the world – the intricate matrix of fantasies and beliefs that constitute our perceptual outlook – we’re more likely to lose reality and become mad than we are to reach some kind of unbiased, objective position. Nevertheless, playing with certain assumptions can be liberating.

Today, it’s as if it’s self-evident that management is about what we do while leadership is about what we want to do. However, I’d like to ask the question posed by leadership expert John O’Leary: Is this description real? As he puts it:

“Are leadership and management fundamentally different roles in practice? Or do they simply require us to focus on different things?”

I suspect most of us can recall experiences when certain managers inspired us to explore uncharted territory and grow rather than simply performing our routines efficiently. That sounds more like leadership to me. Of course, most of us can also recall experiences where some of those in formal leadership roles have been somewhat underwhelming in the “vision” department.

I’ll pursue this exploration further in Part Two.

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