Carol Davis-Smith: Understanding the Difference between Management and Leadership

I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past two years thinking, talking, and learning about leadership and management … and life. I’ve noticed people – myself included – often use the words “leadership” and “management” interchangeably. At best, this is inaccurate. At worst, it can be disheartening.

There are hundreds of books, tapes, classes, and more on management and leadership. In my opinion, it boils down to this: Management is the work, and leadership is how we do it. Leadership is not exclusive to management, and how we do our work may be more important than the work we do.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s Leadership Challenge framework extols the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” which are, “model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.”

At Kaiser Permanente, our CEO talks about leadership in terms of the duty to speak our minds and the duty to listen. The duty to set high standards and clear expectations. The duty to fully engage as team players, and the duty to model these behaviors for our staff and colleagues. These words are directed to all employees and physicians. And these behaviors are observed at all levels of the organization. Not all managers are leaders. Not all leaders are managers.

Over the course of my career, I have learned from leaders at all levels: the technicians who spent countless hours teaching me the intricate details of system wiring schemes – enabling me in the pre- digital age; engineers and managers who allowed me to shadow them early in my career and even just earlier this week. They were modeling the way.

Most of us can learn the mechanics of management, if that is the career path we choose. Some of us can teach the mechanics of management. All of us can be leaders. All of us can choose to see the bigger picture, be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and participate in defining the future. All of us can lead from where we are.

Someone once asked how I wanted to be remembered. The question caught me off guard because I never really thought about being remembered. After composing myself, I said something like, “I just want to leave this place better than I found it.” I am still working on that, but after all I’ve learned about management and life, I think this is the work of leaders.

Carol Davis-Smith, CCE, is vice president of clinical technology at Kaiser Permanente. She is a member of the AAMI Board of Directors.

One thought on “Carol Davis-Smith: Understanding the Difference between Management and Leadership

  1. I have to disagree with the statement, “All of us can be leaders.” Some will just never understand what it takes to be a leader, whether it be their own self agendas or ignorance. They may believe that they are leaders. Everyone though, can be part of the bigger picture, be something bigger, if they choose to. But a leader, a true leader (at least in my mind), is one who sacrifices his/her own agenda for the greater good — not only sacrifices but understands that to reach the optimal outcome, pride must be swallowed, ears must be opened, and mouth must be shut. A leader allows one to try and accomplish the goal his/her way and offers advice and expertise when needed.

    One of my favorite quotes reflects this:

    “The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second – listening, the third – memory, the fourth – practice, the fifth – teaching others.”
    —Solomon Ibn Gabriol

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