Leadership, Management and Corrections

By Martin, Paul L. | Corrections Today, December 1999 | Go to article overview
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Leadership, Management and Corrections

Martin, Paul L., Corrections Today

There is a difference between an act of leadership an act of management. Exactly where the difference lies depends on who is speaking. In general, acts of leadership are those activities necessary to define the destination of the organization (i.e., the bigger picture), while acts of management are those necessary for making the trip a reality (i.e., determining what compass points by which to steer). These skills should not be considered mutually exclusive, though. Individuals can possess both the skills to lead and the skills to manage. However, many organizations, correctional institutions included, may confuse leadership skills with management skills.

When this occurs, the results can be extremely restrictive organizational structures caused by detail-laden management being mistaken for leadership. Remember, management skills are good at the smaller pictures, which combine to make sense of the larger picture, and leadership skills are those that lose sight of the smaller pictures and focus on the larger picture.

To understand what this type of imbalance looks like, it may be beneficial to briefly examine how these two very different skills balance each other out. While the leaders point out the direction, the managers are busy providing, guiding and directing the organizational energy toward the desired end. The manifestation of leadership/management imbalances in organizations can be commonly witnessed in daily functions. One of the most obvious organizational ailments caused by imbalances can be seen in the battles being fought among its members. Too many managers and organizational members spend an inordinate amount of time defending territory by arguing that their way is the best way. Too many leaders and members spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with emergency after emergency rather than operating pro-actively. Too few leaders leads to turf wars and too few managers leads to a confused operating environment grappling with plans for the future. Both conditions reduce organizational effectiveness.

Some organizations sacrifice the leadership function for management-oriented approaches to governing. Ultimately, this hinders their ability to respond to changes because a vision of the future is sacrificed to the details of the day. However, the act of defining the future, of visioning, is not limited to the highest levels of management. Leaders are needed at all levels of the organization. Successful, dynamic organizations capable of maintaining vitality need this balance to maximize their performance and meet the demands of a changing environment.


The correctional industry, like many other public and private sector industries, tends to promote individuals who have a high degree of management skills into leadership positions. This is because management acumen is highly prized and the skills of management are the most obvious of the two. For the most part, these skills are measurable in performance analysis, financial analysis, skills assessments and the like. Leadership, however, is not easily identified and is commonly associated with certain linear personal traits. Leadership is not traditionally easily defined, nor is it statistically measurable. Consequently, leaders are not always identified as such and their roles are not of obvious value in many organizations. When there is an imbalance of managers over leaders, the result frequently is a lopsided organization that forgets its overriding goal for the sake of polishing its immediate appearance. The function of problem-solving in such an organization becomes a problem in its own right.

It is helpful to realize that leadership, as mentioned, does not only take place at the highest levels of organizations, and it should not be thought of as a one-dimensional collection of traits existing within a few people at the top. Organizational leaders, formally recognized or not, excel at addressing certain need areas.

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