The 1990 article “What Leaders Really Do” by J. P. Kotter provides the reader with an utterly unusual perspective on the topic of leadership (Kotter, 1990). It is stated that management is different from leadership mainly by function and the ways and means of performing them. Managers are to tackle the complexity of the company on all its levels, which is why they are responsible for budget planning, organizing staff, monitoring, and resolving issues as they arise.
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At the same time, leaders are liable for goal-setting and decision-making, as well as communicating their expectations to the employees and motivating them. In the first aspect, leaders set the direction the company should take and voice their vision of reaching the aim, while short- and long-term planning is the liability of the management. The second aspect describes how managers and leaders treat human resource: while the former design a human system to most effectively turn their plans into practice, the latter align the employees to make sure they have received, understood, and believed the leader’s visions and directives.
At that, the author speaks of leadership as the source of empowerment while management is regarded as a secondary means of aiming the human resources at the same goal. As the third and final aspect in which management and leadership differ implies, managers monitor while leaders motivate. Managerial control is primarily targeted at ensuring the ways of achieving the leadership’s goals are safe and cost-neutral. Leaders, on the other hand, are responsible for maintaining the spirits and morale, as well as providing the employees with the sensation of unguardedness necessary to empower them and appraising their achievements to show them they are valued.
Thus, while management is of utmost importance, the author’s sympathy seems to be with the leadership. He also states the importance of creating a challenging atmosphere for employees to get motivated and developed as potential leaders (Kotter, 1990).
Kotter’s leadership and management fields of authority can be presented in the form of a chart as follows:
|Coping with the changes||Coping with organizational complexity|
|Aligning human resources and communicating the message||Organizing human resources and distributing tasks|
|Planning within long time period||Short-term planning|
|Motivating and inspiring employees and fostering future leaders||Administering and monitoring employees|
|Communicating the vision||Following the leader’s vision|
|Envisaging and launching transformation||Accomplishing tasks within reach|
More than two decades later, the author’s assumptions appear more balanced between the managerial and leadership components of an organization. He acknowledges the interdependence between the two, although the leader-centered culture is still promoted. The volatility and rapid changes that today’s business world presents call for flexible leaders to embrace them and guide their organizations into transformation.
On the other hand, the necessity to refer to proven models of leadership is still urged in the author’s subsequent works (Kotter, 2013). The author combines the concept of organizational transformation with the seemingly incompatible concept of what might be called “old-school leadership” where the persona of leader is endowed with maximum authority. The author’s message is that any transformation is accelerated from the head downwards. First, the leader must inspire their employees, then form a group of assistants to further encourage transformation on all levels, then visualize a goal to achieve and the means of achieving it, then articulate the visions to the employees, etc. (Kotter International, 2016).
As it can be seen, the concept has not presented significant changes over time. At the same time, overly authoritative leadership seems to be born to lose as well. The author’s model of bringing up leaders within the organization prescribes existing leaders to watch and single out the talented ones to promote, motivate, and challenge. As a matter of fact, such strategies seem to work. The strategy of encouraging employees to lead can be analogized with what Make-A-Wish Foundation did, offering a leukemia-diagnosed child an opportunity to become a hero and save Gotham (i.e., San Francisco) from the villains’ terror (Kotter International, 2013).
The idea of helping a child moved the people to take part on an entirely voluntary basis. What is important, the idea united them in a way that made use of their emotional movement instead of being based on dry data and prospects. Also, just as the Batkid, the employee leaders feel empowered and learn to act under pressing circumstances, which is training in itself and increases their commitment.
Thus, Kotter’s views appear as relevant to-date as they were 26 years ago. The author differentiates leadership from management asserting that the two complement each other but are by no means interchangeable. Opposing his opinion to the common conception that a good leader is a born one, the author argues in favor of the possibility to actually bring up leaders within an establishment. The idea that leadership is a unifier and that change should be encouraged from the top is credible, just as the concept of training leaders within establishments, giving them a chance to act and empowering them to transform and innovate their way to success.
Kotter, J. P. (2013). John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
Kotter, J. P. (1990). What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review, 68(3), 103-111.
Kotter International. (2013). Saving Gotham: 5 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn from Batkid. Forbes. Web.
Kotter International. (2016). The 8-Step Process for Leading Change. Web.