In this installment, I want to address those who haven’t promoted yet or who have chosen not to promote. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who criticize their superiors by attempting to separate “management” from “leadership.”

They often say things like:

  • “Being a manager doesn’t make her a leader,” or
  • “Putting on the bugles (bars, oak leafs, whatever) doesn’t make him my leader.”

These are the same people that sit back in the recliner and attack the “leadership” skills of their superiors and groan about how they could do it better… different… be a real leader and not just a manager. On and on it goes. You may know a couple of guys or gals like this.

To the self-proclaimed leadership experts out there (don’t worry, I can relate), I’d like to ask you to define “leadership.”

Most of us believe that we know what leadership is, or we at least know it when we see it. About 3 years ago, I began to study leadership as a discipline (you can actually get doctorate degrees in this stuff) and I learned that I was wrong about a lot of things.

According to J.C. Roost (1993), there are over 100 definitions of “leadership” in textbooks alone. So, a couple of takeaways….first there are over 100 TEXT books (scholarly works, not even addressing the number of opinions or blog posts out there) about leadership. How many have you read? Second, none of the “actual” experts (not counting you, me or the guy on “B” shift) can really agree on what the definition is. It is difficult to criticize that which cannot be defined.

So, let’s talk about what we do understand a little better.

A lot of our peers are quick to critically label someone as a “manager,” attaching a negative connotation to it. Like being a manager is something quite opposite of being a leader. According to Northouse (2018), however “management” is about order and “leadership” is about constructive change. So, it stands to reason that management and leadership will forever be tied because you need order before you can accomplish constructive change!

There is a gentleman that I know that has been an agency head for a couple of decades. Most (but not all) of his employees respect him on some level, but openly admit that they don’t like the guy. He has taken some heat for not being a “leader.” This usually happens whenever management enacts a new policy and people feel like their boss didn’t adequately consult with them or take their input into account. People usually say something like, “A real leader asks for others’ opinions.”

The comments about poor leadership usually surface when someone has their feelings hurt or feels like they can’t call the director their “friend.” Here’s my point, this man runs one of the most progressive and well-funded public agencies in his region and has been running it for nearly 20 years. They have equipment and patient care protocols (not to mention salaries) that make outsiders green with envy. The amount of “constructive change” that has occurred baffles most of his peers from surrounding jurisdictions. And, by the way, those employees that don’t think he is their “friend” quickly forget the number of Thanksgivings and Christmas’ he worked so that one of them could be with their kids and they have no idea how many times he has agonized over discipline decisions before verdicts were handed down.

I realize that I’ve probably muddied the waters more than I’ve cleared things up, but that was my intent. I want you to imagine that what you, me and our friends “know” about leadership may not be universally true. Someone with great management skills (although not seen as a leader) may be the very poster child of leadership (remember there are over 100 different definitions!).

One more thing. Newly promoted officers often hear that they’ve “changed” and they are “not the same person.”

My question here is, “Why is that surprising to anyone?” If someone’s role changes, wouldn’t it follow that the things they do and say might change as a result.

Not doing so would be like an EMT-B who recently passed their paramedic exam refusing a paramedic’s responsibilities. Just like there is a transition and new expectations placed upon new paramedics, new leaders and managers go from being your peer to being accountable for what you do and responsible for your actions. That is a big shift in relationships. I would hope that it would come with changes in how they think, act and respond.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your own ideas and stay safe out there!


Tim Wojcik lives in Columbia, SC with his wife and four children and is a contract instructor with DistanceCME. He is the lead faculty for public safety related leadership courses at Columbia College (SC). Tim has over 20 years of public safety and leadership experience and volunteers as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Institute of Leadership and Success and he can be contacted at tim@scleaderinstitute.com.