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May 6, 2019

Key Difference in Leaders vs. Managers

Summary:

Today, there is ambiguity in the role of leadership. Many people who need to be leaders are actually serving in a management role.

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About 35 years ago in a political science class, Dr. Campbell stated, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that “plagiarism is copying from one source, research is copying from more than one source.” By the good doctor’s terms, this is the best-researched article I’ve ever written. It has also been the easiest – because most of the work was done by people better-educated, wiser, more experienced and more respected than me.

Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference.”

My observation is that this world contains many managers but few leaders. I believe that leaders select “the road less traveled” and that managers walk the well-worn path. Both roles are necessary. The problem is that the individuals involved try to walk both paths and get lost in the woods!

In times of abundance, you need managers to create and maintain processes – to inventory the excess. Count what you have. Control the status quo! Managers say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” “Let’s not reinvent the wheel.” “We’ve always done it this way.” Managers are about efficiency – “doing things right,” as Peter Drucker said.

Management is about HOW.

Leadership is about WHY.

In times of competition, war, discovery and conquest, we need leaders to grow people and create systems. Leaders identify a current reality and define a future ideal. They then mobilize, organize and energize their followers to build a bridge between these two points and then to cross that bridge.

Leaders believe, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” “The buck stops here.” “I have a dream.” “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.” “Let’s roll.” Leaders are about effectiveness – “doing the right things,” as Peter Drucker said.

See also: Play With Dolls, and Be a Better Leader  

Today, there is much ambiguity in the role of leadership. Many people positioned as leaders are actually serving in a management role. Most of these people have what it takes to lead – unfortunately, they have been kidnapped by the status quo, the comfort zone, the urgent or the organization to accept the safer role of management.

In my opinion, the role of a leader is easy to define but a challenge to create. The leader is:

  • A Dream Catcher – the leader must have a vision of sufficient grandeur to attract and motivate followers and (s)he must have the commitment to that vision and a discipline to pursue it.
  • An Organizational Architecture – the leader must build a foundation that will define and support the organizational infrastructure and operations. Every member of the organization should be able to view this foundation and infrastructure and determine if they fit. This foundation includes the vision, the values, the mission and the standards of the organization.
  • An Environmental Engineer – the leader must remove toxins from inside the organization and protect the organization from poison in the environment in which it exists.
  • A Coach – the leader must find or develop the people to build the infrastructure, design its systems and operate the processes. Coaches condition, develop, reward and discipline the team, write the game plan and scout the competition. Coaches know their team in the context of the game – when to substitute, when to kick a butt and when to pat it. They control the pace of the game and influence its outcome.

Leadership applied has been defined as follows:

  • Max DePree said, “The first role of the leader is to define reality.”
  • Henry Kissinger said “the task of the leader is to get people from where they are to where they have not been.”
  • Peter Drucker suggests that “the one absolute of a leader is followers.”

Let me be so presumptuous as to offer a reason for the ambiguity existing in the role of leaders today – FOLLOWERS HAVE CHANGED! Yesterday’s world and its organizations were built by the generation that won World War II. (“To the victors go the spoils.”) These leaders were trained in the military for war. Command and control was their mantra, and it worked. They were built to lead or to follow as needed.

Leaders in tomorrow’s world are the children of the WWII generation. We were the hippies. We challenged the system. We rebelled against command and control. We are more diverse in demographics (women, people of color, cultures, etc.). We believe in collaboration and consensus building. We were built to manage.

As leaders of today (and tomorrow), our successors and we must realize the role we are in and meet the expectations and requirements of that role. If we are to lead an organization, our role is to DEFINE AND DEFEND THE VISION. WE MUST ADDRESS THE ORGANIZATIONAL WHY. THIS IS NOT ABOUT CONSENSUS. IT’S ABOUT OUR FOUNDATION AND FOCUS.

When the WHY is defined, it must be made operational by processes, teams and managers. This is the time to seek collaboration and consensus. This is the HOW. (“There is more than one way to skin a cat.”) Diversity in leadership creates chaos. Diversity in teams that operate processes creates order by consensus and involvement.

If you as leader or your organization as a group is struggling, you must remove any ambiguity – you must clarify the rules and roles. As leaders, establish the vision, values, mission and standards – THE WHY! Let the managers and their teams design and develop processes – THE HOW.

See also: Don’t Lie to Yourself About the Future  

Diversity in team building and creation of processes is important. It’s necessary to discuss, debate, dissent, define, etc. Once all voices have been heard and the group decides the best processes to achieve the mission, individuals as a group must COMMIT. In process design and development, diversity is great. In our purpose, we must be uniform in our focus and commitment and disciplined in our followthrough.

Let these world leaders close this article for me!

Winston Churchill, in describing meetings during World War II, said that groupthink leads to “…weak and faltering decisions, or rather indecisions. When you take the most gallant soldier, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious sailor, put them at a table together, what do you get? The sum total of their fears.”

Margaret Thatcher said, “Consensus is the absence of leadership.”

Lead on! Let’s roll.

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About the Author

Mike Manes was branded by Jack Burke as a “Cajun Philosopher.” He self-defines as a storyteller – “a guy with some brain tissue and much more scar tissue.” His organizational and life mantra is Carpe Mañana.

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