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Leadership and Management in ELT. What’s the difference and why does it matter?


Duncan Foord is the trainer on the OxfordTEFL Leadership in ELT course. He has 35 years’ experience in ELT as a teacher, teacher trainer, leader and manager. He is author of The Developing Teacher (2009) and From Language Teacher to Learner Coach (2016). In the first of three articles on Leadership, Duncan Foord looks at how leading and managing differ and how they both contribute to success in classrooms and in ELT organisations.


In the OxfordTEFL Leadership in ELT course participants are asked to complete the following exercise. You might like to give it a try, or if not scroll down to the key below.

Decide which of the following pairs is associated with leading and which with managing. The first 2 have been done for you.

change L M stability
subordinates M L followers
vision     objectives
sets direction     plans detail
formal authority     personal charisma
re-active     pro-active
passion     control
breaks rules     makes rules
takes blame     blames others
minimises risks     takes risks
new roads     existing roads

Key to exercise:

Leading: change/ followers/ vision/ sets direction/ personal charisma/ pro-active/ passion/ sell/ breaks rules/ takes blame/ takes risks/ new roads.

Leadership and management are approaches, not jobs.

Among other things, the exercise helps us focus on the fact that leading and managing refer to approaches, not fixed attributes. It is not the case that some people are leaders and other managers. We all do both in our professional and personal life. There is a time for passion and control and a place for setting direction and following through on the detail. The key is to know which approach to use when.

Traditionally in businesses, and ELT is no exception, leader type behaviours are associated with senior roles. The Assistant Director of Studies plans details like sorting out the timetables, the Academic Director sets direction, deciding what teachers to hire and what courses to run. However, while this at first sight looks like a leader to manager command chain, on closer examination we can see that it’s not that simple.  The ADOS is likely to need a leadership approach to tackle the intricacies of allocating the right class to the right teacher (vision), convincing teachers to accept classes they may be initially reluctant to take on (charisma) and looking for creative solutions to keeping students and teachers as happy as possible (pro-active, new roads, taking risks).

Teaching and leading are pretty much the same thing

Refer back to that list of leader characteristics and you will notice it reads like the job description for a teacher! Of course the managing list is important for teachers too, but we didn’t become teachers just to follow the course book and mark exams on time.  Passion and commitment to the success of our students, taking risks with creative use of materials and activities, charisma and vision are also essential features of teaching. This is why teachers tend to be great leaders in the classroom. However, when they step out into management posts, it can be challenging to transfer the confidence they have in the classroom setting where they have been designated as leaders by students, to a context where they are leading a team of teachers who haven’t chosen them and where they are answerable to a boss who may themselves not be fully confident or skilled in their leadership role. This challenge is typically under addressed in ELT. Teachers are often promoted out of roles they are excellent in, to roles they might or might not be excellent in and given little support in dealing with the new challenge.

Managing and leading are complimentary.

The courses available for people in management roles in ELT tend to focus more on management (in name and content) rather than leadership. This is a pity because whilst the two are important, leadership tends to be the difficult bit and requires more practice. Management is more about systems, leadership is more about people. You can learn a system in 5 hours, but you’ll never learn people in 50 years! Look back to that leader list again and you’ll notice the element of human connection in most of the items. Subordinates can be allocated for free (just do as she says) but you need to work hard to get followers (do as she says, if she has your respect and you find her convincing). Communication is the cornerstone of leadership. When we think about our highs and lows in our professional life inside or outside the classroom they tend to involve good or bad communication in some way, not that you messed up a spreadsheet.  More on this in my next article.

This and this article give a succinct summary of how leader and manager roles can be separated in a team, though it is important to note that all team members need leadership and management skills regardless of their role.

Leadership matters!

Leading and managing are complimentary and essential elements of successful teaching, successful schools and, well, successful anything.

People, teams and organisations may find they need to work on one more than the other. My hunch is that it is more often leadership than management. Geopolitical challenges such as the environment and Brexit are notable examples of failures of leadership rather than management. And in our profession when a school is losing business, when students don’t learn anything in class, when a teacher gets stressed, the situation is likely to be improved with attention to leadership at the personal and organisational level rather than management.

The Leadership in ELT course is available as an Online One to One, Online Group and Face to Face course in Barcelona. See all dates here and apply here for your chance to work directly with Duncan and develop your Leadership in ELT skills.

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