Leadership, Management and Professionalism – a Powerful Combination

Leadership, Management and Professionalism – a Powerful Combination

There are all sorts of amazing resources available to help people develop their management and leadership. There are university and college diplomas and degrees, private provider courses, books, blogs, coaches, podcasts and too many others to name.

The reason is that these are rightly considered to be incredibly important and highly valuable for all people in the workforce, no matter their role, the level at which they work nor their industry sector.

There are very few resources available for developing professionalism.

The reason is that professionalism is quite wrongly assumed to be too obvious to need to train people. Yet I’ve not met anyone who doesn’t think that professionalism is incredibly important or highly valuable for all people in the workforce, no matter their role, the level at which they work nor their industry sector!

The Three Essentials – A Powerful Combination

There are so many implications for the above but, for this blog, I want to make the case for professionalism to take its place alongside management and leadership as the third ‘leg’ of a powerful combination, making up a trinity of the modern work-role.

Overlap and Commonalities

Because Professionalism, Leadership and Management share characteristics, it can be difficult to separate them with any sort of precision.

So, naturally, I have had to have a try!

Thinking back to my own MBA, we distinguished Management as ‘doing things right’ from Leadership as ‘doing the right things’. This is admittedly crude and misses both masses of knowledge and subtle nuance; but it is helpful and essentially correct, and provides a good starting point for this blog.

This is what I’d like to add: Professionalism is about ‘doing one’s work-role’.

Three in One!

Management, Leadership and Professionalism should be possessed concurrently by any and every person in the workforce! While I am (almost) artificially breaking down Management, Leadership and Professionalism into separate, identifiable phenomena for the purpose of this blog, a person would typically glide between them while they go about their daily tasks, not stopping to think ‘ok, should I employ my management skills or my leaderships skills or do a bit of professionalism now?’


They will do what they need to do to do their jobs by drawing on each as they require. But these three things are different beasts and it is very helpful to treat them separately.

Yet Still Very Different

We can distinguish between the three and better understand their unique contribution to people in the workforce in terms of their respective locus, focus, style and how observed.


The skills of Management concentrate on resources (including resources that are human but in an objective, operational sense); Leadership concentrates on people in a human sense. Management will make sure that skilled people have appropriate tools and materials to make a product; Leadership will make sure that those people are motivated and that their efforts all flow in the same direction.

Professionalism is about each person taking responsibility to ensure that they possess right skills to the right level, and knowledge to perform their specific job, and to do so within the relevant social context of their organisation, industry and socio-cultural environment.


Management is focused on the objective deployment of resources in order to generate outcomes; Leadership is about engaging with people to influence their behaviour in order to generate outcomes.

Management and Leadership are skills or attributes possessed by people but their focus is outward, on resources and other people.

Professionalism is about fulfilling the purpose of one’s work-role, by both ‘doing’ and ‘being’. Its focus is relatively inward, on performance, personal presence and commitment to standards. Professionalism is an observed phenomenon so it is ‘outward’ in that sense, but is about one’s own performance in the social/organisational context.


Professionalism, Management and Leadership have subtly different styles. Management can be seen to have a style featuring structure and rationality; it is operational and transactional, practical and deals in detail.

Leadership deals in influence, big picture and ‘pulling together’ to achieve a result.

The style of Professionalism is one of applying skills in a knowledgeable context to achieve a purpose and fulfil a work-role; the professional practitioner is personable but disinterested (in the sense of not taking undue or personal advantage of a situation).


Finally, Professionalism, Management and Leadership are observed in different ways.

For Management, people see effectiveness and efficiency; Leadership is ‘felt’ by people; Professionalism is observed by others over time through fulfilment of work-role purpose as well as appropriate demeanour, behaviour and presentation.

A Powerful Trinity

I find it intriguing that Professionalism is as important as Leadership and Management but is not commonly understood or actively taught outside of the traditional, formal professions. Professions such as law and medicine have centuries old notions of professionalism with specific meaning and implications; only after years of academic training, aspiring members of the professions are actively educated in professionalism.

My challenge is this: what about the rest of us? If we are not members of traditional, formal professions and yet we are expected to be professional, how do we learn it?

My research suggests that Management education has been around since the USA’s Wharton college introduced an MBA in the 1880s, and now there are thousands of MBA programmes. Leadership is thought to have started in the 1840s through the ‘Great Man Theory’.

Professionalism is both ancient and completely new. Professionalism dates back even further than Hippocrates’s famous Oath, but is highly specific to formal professions; the 1960s tinkered with the sociological notion of the cultural and economic implications of the formal professions; occupations are lining up to be transformed in to professions by developing bodies of knowledge and ethical standards for members. Thousands of articles have been written about professional etiquette and organisational behaviour.

But the empirical study of professionalism of individuals started the moment my application for my doctoral dissertation was approved.

I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.

That wouldn’t be at all professional!

Cheers, Richard


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