Leaders v managers

Not all managers are worthy of ‘leadership’ status. But, according to a now retired Major General from the ADF, managers can actually learn, through life experience, to inspire and lead a team effectivley.

Above: Major General Jim Molan discusses leadership at the recent CS&HISC conference in Brisbane.

By Yasmin Noone

Aged care ‘leaders’ must distinguish themselves from being just a ‘manager’ and provide inspiration in times of crisis and direction to lost employees who have lost their moral compass, an expert said at the recent Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC) national conference, Making a Difference…2011 in Brisbane.

Author, solider and former chief of operations for the Australian Defence Force in Iraq (2004), Major General Jim Molan, engaged the CS&HISC conference attendees last week with his theories of leadership and metaphorical comparisons between the force and health care sector.

Putting aside all arguments about the validity of war, the now retired major entertained conference-goers with real-life battle examples from the second Iraq and Vietnam wars, detailing what works when leading a team and unfortunately, what does not.  
“The defence force is not a paragon of leadership or an organisation of virtue,” Major Molan said.

“But, it does some things pretty well…One of them is to produce leaders.

“The core business of the force is to produce leaders from the bottom and grow them through the system.”

Mr Molan explained how leadership is not something that can necessarily be taught – instead it is a set of skills gained through real life and work experience.

Most importantly however, leaders differentiate themselves from ‘managers’ by being aware of themselves, setting “the tone of the organisation from the top to the bottom”, inspiring their followers and managing difficult – not just easy — situations.

“The overwhelming point is that you have to do what is right and what is good or your leadership will be totally compromised.

“If you can not manage, you can not lead as you’ll always be in a situation of crisis.

“It’s not difficult to lead in routine situations…but it’s hard in extreme circumstances.

“Leaders lead routinely in a crisis.”

Leaders are also prepared to take on constructive suggestions from employees who are beneath them in the staffing ladder.

“Leadership is all about influencing others in order to gain their willing consent in the ethical pursuit of missions.

“…We all also know that resentful leaders can destroy a leader very quickly.

“[So] the boss has to be that certain type of person who can listen to people below them and if they can do that, they can do extraordinary things.” 

Major Molan – who is also a board member of the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney – advised all managers or team leaders in the audience to firstly understand the difference between “acting ethically” and “acting morally” and of course, then proceed to act in an ethical manner.

“Ethics is the consideration of moral questions and morals is to do what is right.

So ethics, he concluded, “is the consideration of right and wrong”.

“…You have to do what is right and what is good or your leadership will be totally compromised.”

But determining what it right and what is wrong can be quite problematic, especially in a time of crisis amidst changing values and alternating internal and external atmospheres. 

The major therefore recommended that leaders ask “not ‘what I or should you do but what one should do’,” in periods of turmoil.

“For those young staff who are not yet settled down on their moral compass, a leader can provide guidance for them.”

Citing the horrific example of Vietnam’s My Lai Massacre in 1968, where American soldiers committed acts of atrocities against civilian women and children, Mr Molan graphically made his point about what can happen in the absence of good leadership.

Describing the soldiers as human beings who had “lost all sense of direction”, he explained that the appalling war crimes committed during the massacre were, to an extent, balanced by heroic acts performed by those who acted ethically to stop the atrocities.

“The [massacre] is an extraordinary example of ethics, as it goes to every reason why leadership failed.

But, he said, unethical acts did not just happen in 1968 Vietnam – “look at the global financial crisis”.

“…You will always find people make mistakes. And you could find that [mistakes] happen [on a very different scale] in any organisation

“But what we can do as leaders is to provide people with a sense of direction.

“For all the 100 Americans who did the wrong thing there, there were 100 who did the right thing because they were lead.”

Tags: australian-defence-force, cshisc, ethics, iraq, leaders, major-general-jim-molan, making-a-difference, management, st-james-ethics-centre, vietnam,

3 thoughts on “Leaders v managers

  1. Jim Molan raises a couple of interesting point when he suggests the military are good at growing leaders from the bottom and that good leaders provide a sense of direction.

    The military offers a career path for people and the healthcare sector, in particular hospital management could do the same. Aged care may not offer the same level of opportunities for career development due to the fragmented nature of the sector.

    A challenge for leaders outside of the military may be how they go about providing a sense of direction. The discussion around ethics and morals might also become interesting when factors such as remuneration, promotion, politics etc are thrown into the mix. Is it personal direction or the direction of the sector or a direction based upon caring for people?

  2. Jim Nolans speach strikes numerous cords when one reflects on providing leadership in times of crisis in aged care. The moral and ethical values are regulaly put to the test and the true strength comes from holding firm to the vision mission and values that we are often reminded of on the walls of the organisation, but often are lost in the concept of team leading.
    The military gave me a long and strong mentoring in leadership and management that provides me with skills that I have deployed in battle in the frontline in care. Moral and ethical dilema within the individual is the enemy of good leadership and when it strikes your only defence is emotional intelligence, self discipline and stong communication skills.

  3. Chris, you raise an interesting point about mission, vision and values. As nonprofit providers we assume these are in place and that is what people are guided by – then we all understand what can happen when we make assumptions. The aged care sector in Australia is about to engage in its most significant change since the 1990’s or more. Our mission should come under intense scrutiny. Who do we provide what for? Why do we do what it is we do? I believe these are questions every board or committee of every aged care facility throughout Australia will be forced to reconsider over the next couple of years.

    As we move towards a value added industry where the customer has choice (even if limited) as providers our ethics and morals will often be called into question. Do we do this because we care or do we do this because it makes more money? If we make more money will we care more?


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