There is a saying about the difference between management and leadership that I just love. I use it on my home page, and it plays all through my work with leaders. I love it because it appears to pose an ‘either-or’ choice for an executive, but it’s one of those fun trick questions where you know the answer must really be ‘both.’
Question: Are you a manager or a leader?
Answer: hmmm …manager …leader… hey, the answer must be ‘Both’!
Of course, it all depends on how you define the terms.
All right then, so next question: what’s the difference?
- Management is getting others to do what you say.
- Leadership is getting others to want what you want.
Why does this matter? Both of these things are important, right?
If you are in a position of authority, you will have occasion to need others to do what you say. You’re a logistics executive operating a high-traffic network where time is literally money; or a CFO who has designed a new dashboard for managing the business. Not a lot of time or need for debate; let’s get this done!
In urgent, time-critical situations, the pressure mounts on everyone, and an unspoken rule emerges where everyone welcomes clear direction. When you’re in one of these situations as a member, you are predisposed to say yes first and ask questions later. If you’re the leader in such situations, you confuse people if you don’t give clear directions. An exploratory, ‘what-does-everyone-else-think-let’s-talk-it-over’ approach is anathema.
Nonetheless, most of the situations in everyday organizational life are not so urgent, and thinking people are not so predisposed to say yes first and ask questions later.
But the directive approach is alluring, in fact so much so that many executives amplify situational urgency in order to make the more convenient directive style appropriate.
- We need this done yesterday!
- Our competition never sleeps!
- Our board and shareholders demand it!
- …so do what I say!
A pattern sets in and CEOs can convince themselves everything is urgent and everybody loves it that way!
The truth is that this only works for so long before people start rebelling. Some vote with their feet and move on to other companies. Others hop to it, but don’t really understand or embrace the action, and so their performance is missing something. Some give tacit compliance, often with a smile, but pursue actions with less than full enthusiasm.
The organization’s pace suffers; CEOs find themselves complaining about inertia, wondering whether they’ve got the right team in place.
The silent rebellion is a culture buzzkill of the worst kind.
There is another option here, and this is where leadership comes in – getting others to want what you want. It’s not a substitute for management, but a complement to it, and a very different thing altogether. It’s about tapping desire, and calling forth passion. For the engineers in the crowd (for the engineer in all of us!), it’s about accessing those extra ergs of discretionary energy!
Effective CEOs make this their own personal challenge, and a personal challenge for their top management team as well.
One CEO recently made this challenge the centerpiece of his annual top team strategy offsite. He had just led the team in crafting a fresh view of the company’s mission and a longer-term vision of the competitive position they wanted to occupy in the minds of their customers. They all agreed enthusiastically on the objective, and believed the capabilities they were building would get them there.
The offsite discussion focused on these questions:
- What are you trying to accomplish in your job? What part do you want to play in our company achieving its vision? What do you want?
- Why is it important to you? Why do you care? Why do you want it? Why this point in your career, why this point in your life …
- What are your biggest fears about getting it done? What are you worried about? i.e. competitive, organizational, personal. Start outward facing and move inward looking
- What help could you use from your team members, including the CEO? What from whom? Ask for what you need
Annual offsites are not the only place for passion. There are many occasions, day in and day out when you think about it, where calling forth the passion is the more effective approach.
Your irreducible task as leader is to find those occasions and call forth the passion. If you don’t, who will?
Adventurer Antoine de Saint-Exupery captured this sentiment in his book The Wisdom of the Sands:
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood,
then divide the work and give out orders.
Instead: awaken their desire for the sea.
Take this then for your goal as a leader of people: awaken their desire for the sea.
Comments? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org