Leadership versus Management - AFL as a case study

Peter Jackson, CEO of the Melbourne Football Club, discusses some of the differences between management and leadership and the part culture plays in creating a team primed for success.

Leadership and management are intrinsically linked in the minds of most, but require a very different set of skills. Both are important and are by no means mutually exclusive. Management is about things – tasks, creating order, processes, logistics, mitigating risk, setting cost budgets and reporting information. Leadership is quite different and requires a greater level of creativity and imagination in order to inspire people to understand the organisational vision and get them to perform to their full capability.

You can be a manager, but if you are a poor leader, your management career may come to an early or even abrupt end, because people may not want to work for you. However, to be a good leader, you must also be a good manager. Without the ability to manage well, you may not have the credibility to be a good leader – people might not buy into your vision or plans.

Developing managers to become leaders

The problem for managers starting their management career is that too often the words leadership and management are used interchangeably and too many companies don’t invest in their managers’ leadership development. Younger middle managers are often people who have excelled through their own personal efforts and are able to take that approach into their management careers. They often think they can tell their staff how to do their roles, rather than helping their staff maximise their performance. The difference is important.

In the AFL industry, there is sometimes an assumption made that a successful player will make a successful coach. If skilled former players are selected to be the senior coach of a club with little or no leadership experience, it is likely this coach will not be able to develop the team to success like the coaches who have a proven ability to lead.

How is leadership different to management?

Leaders have the ability to lead through change

Good leaders are able to take people down a road they didn’t even know they wanted to travel, at least not until they arrived at the destination. The best example of the words management and leadership being incorrectly interchanged is in using the term ‘Change Management’ – that is an oxymoron! You cannot manage change. You can only lead change. You must take people on the journey with you, and you must inspire them to believe in your journey and want to follow.

At the Melbourne Football Club we recruited Paul Roos, not only because of his excellent coaching skills, but because of his background in leadership and his innate ability to influence and cultivate a culture of success. There are many coaches who can build a talented side but Paul Roos is also able to lead and inspire our team.

Maximise potential

The second part is creating a motivating environment so people want to come to work to do their best. You cannot manage and motivate people; people motivate themselves. People don’t work for a salary as their priority, they work for intangible things like recognition, respect, a sense of belonging, personal achievement and growth, camaraderie, self-esteem and friendships. Work is the most significant investment of anyone’s personal time over their life. As a leader if you recognise this and provide an environment that meets their needs, people will follow you and perform above and beyond normal expectations. If you only try to manage them, they will work within the parameters of the rules, and you will never maximise their potential.

Culture is the differentiator

Part of creating a motivating environment is to have the right governance and create the right culture. Culture is ‘how we do business around here’. It is the behaviours you tolerate and reward, the nature and frequency of the feedback provided, the ability or not to have open and honest conversations.

Governance is simply having good people who consistently make good decisions and who ‘know their role and play their role’.

In an equalised industry like the AFL where a clubs’ ability to attract talented players is largely restricted by a salary cap and a national draft, the only real way to differentiate on the ground is through good governance and good culture. As a consequence, poor governance and poor culture leads to poor performance. Both have been consistently evident over the last 10 years in the AFL and that is what makes the AFL a good case study for business to follow.

Peter Jackson

CEO, Melbourne Football Club

Peter has been CEO of the Melbourne Football club since 2013. His mandate when joining the club was to lead a total rebuild, including the football and financial performance, as well as the culture of the club. In that time the club has turned around a reported $3 million loss in 2013 to profit in 2014 and is on track for an improved results in financial year 2015/2016.

Peter also operates as a consultant providing strategic advice, mentoring and leadership development for companies and other AFL Clubs. For more information please click here.