Governance versus Leadership

Governance versus Leadership

Governance is about systems, power and control. Leadership is about people and relationships. Both aspects are important but if global disruptions will continue to rise, not governance but advanced or wiser leadership will require more attention.


What governance is will depend on your perspective. This concept is not clearly defined and there are many different definitions. But to focus on its core and keep it as simple as possible, one could say it is the system by which entities are directed and controlled. footnotes 1,2,3.

Entities can be public or private sector organizations. This leads to a division in public governance and corporate governance principles. However, in both domains checks and balances play a major role to exercise authority and to direct and control a legal entity.

Any governance system should respect the basic human rights of all its stakeholders and protect them from their leaders’ power abuse, be it a Board of Directors or a Government or any mix of both.

A second aspect is the difference between theory and practice. Governance codes abound but living up to them in practice is some-thing else. Beautiful wording of noble principles are meaningless if they are not followed up by a leader’s behavior.

If the true intentions of any public and private sector leaders are absolute power and control over their stakeholders, no governance codes, leadership oaths or public-private agreements will be of any value. Their governance system is unethical and useless, and stake-holders should reject it even if (un)written governance rules forbid.

So, governance is only one side of the coin, at best. The other side is leadership and leadership behavior.


It is true this concept is even less clear cut. Therefore, we prefer our own definition. Leadership is the human ability to inspire others in order to achieve a common goal.

The main difference with governance is simple: leadership is not a system but a human ability. It is about people and relationships. Some may prefer to call it ‘soft power’ but inspiration has nothing to do with power. It is an art based on equality and mutual respect.

A major aspect of leadership is the difference between formal and informal leadership. Both types may have to do with a vision or goal other people find inspiring to achieve but it doesn’t require an organizational setting or formal job position.

Informal leadership is regularly demonstrated by authors, philo-sophers, journalists, social media influencers and many other so-called thought leaders.

As long as other people agree to join a common cause or to follow a certain example, a leader-follower relationship will emerge. In our program we prefer the term stakeholder instead of follower because it better reflects an interactive relationship and not a passive one.

Stakeholders can be employees, clients, investors, suppliers, and many others, such as a congregation, a constituency or citizens.

A second aspect is the difference between individual and collective leadership. In the future we expect leadership to be shared more often than not. The autocratic model of one-man rule will gradually be substituted by many people ruling themselves democratically. Any group of people may exercise collective leadership or at least rotating leadership. Think of cooperative enterprises.

Why is the difference important?

Both governance and leadership are important. In any public and private sector organization one cannot do without the other. They compliment and reinforce each other.

But this will change if global turbulence will continue to rise. In that case, much more attention needs to be directed to leadership, and notably advanced or wiser leadership. There are two reasons.

First, turbulence and disruptions will play havoc with governance systems. It is like earthquakes shattering the structure of buildings. Systems and structures are necessary but they may be too rigid to adapt to fast changing circumstances.

Second, as indicated, systems will only function properly if their leaders function properly. If leaders start to engage in unacceptable behavior, put their individual interest above the collective interest, or abuse their powers in any way, governance systems will collapse sooner or later. That is what history is showing us time and again.

The current trust deficit of stakeholders in their leaders is a warning sign for all to see. And this trend is rising year after year, globally. footnote 4.

We need leaders who know how to lead with more wisdom

We do not need more laws, regulations and governance codes to try to regulate abusive leadership behavior.

We need leaders who know how to lead with wisdom and who connect to their source of inner wisdom. Wiser leaders engage in self-reflection and self-mastery helping them to (re)connect to their spiritual (not religious) level or the center of their being as explained in our program.

Final thoughts

Advanced leadership based on inner wisdom need to be put high on the agenda of all leaders, globally. This should not be done in a top-down but bottom-up fashion. In addition, wiser leadership cannot be grown from the outside in but only from the inside out.

So, good governance and good leadership are both important. They complement and reinforce each other as two sides of the same coin. But due to a current global imbalance, leadership from the inside out should receive much more attention. That’s why our program focuses on leadership, not governance.

1  Governance Today: what_is_it_and_why_is_it_important_.aspx     
2  Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland:     
3  Worldbank:     
4  See my article No Trust, No Leadership

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Author: Daniel L e Gras     
Date: January 2023      
Picture: ArtTower / Pixabay

Permission to download or copy this article is granted for private use only.     
Please, cite this article as: Le Gras, D. (2023). Governance versus Leadership. Institute for Governance & Leadership, Amersfoort, The Netherlands.