Finessing Leadership and Management
In my last column, I sought to convince you that easy formulas for parenting, leadership or managing a business -- as tirelessly as we seek them out -- rarely succeed. Why not? Because the easy formulas usually don’t account for the fact that a given problem is sometimes best resolved by one principle, yet other times it’s better to apply its opposite principle.
While both principles are true, one works in some situations and the alternative works in others. Sometimes, both need to be applied in varying degrees at the same time. That’s a paradox. Learning how to finesse paradoxes -- how to apply true principles to a problem wisely -- is the toughest challenge for managers and leaders.
Store managers must resolve a particularly tough paradox: the conflict between leadership and management. How do you separate the two? Steven R. Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” advises, “You lead people, and manage things.”
John P. Kotter, a retired professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business School, defines the two a bit differently. He says management is about coping with complexity, while leadership is about coping with change. In his book, “What Leaders Really Do,” Kotter elaborates (see chart below).
Thus, both Covey and Kotter believe that leadership relates more to vision and people, while management relates more to detailed planning and implementing. Even so, both require skills in dealing with tasks and people. In which area do more of your natural talents lie? As you read, think about whether you want to be both a leader and manager in your company, or if you’d prefer to hire someone to take the opposing role.
Even though you’re called “sales manager” or “store manager,” you’ve probably heard the term “management” denigrated.
High-technology conglomerate United Technologies has written: “People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. Whoever heard of a ‘world manager?’ A ‘World Leader,’ yes. We know of Educational Leaders, Political Leaders, Religious Leaders, Scout Leaders, Community Leaders, Labor Leaders, and Business Leaders.
“They lead. They don’t manage. The leader’s carrot always wins over the manager’s stick. Just ask your horse. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t manage him to drink.
The paradox: management is a critical part of leadership. I think management gets a bad rap. After all, without management, leadership lacks structure. Management makes a company efficient and profitable. Managers make quotas, meet deadlines, give and take orders, evaluate others, and get the most out of themselves. A manager maintains the stability, control and the status quo.
Leadership is about change and improvement. A leader inspires constituents to dig deep and to give more. Leadership captures the constituents’ heads and hearts; management buys their arms and hands. A leader sets standards, exceeds goals, initiates actions, and draws the most out of others.
While the leader empowers, the manager controls. Leadership changes the world, and management maintains it. You need both.
The point here is not that leadership is good and management is bad. Rather, they are different because they serve separate purposes. The fundamental purpose of management is to keep the current system functioning. The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change -- especially non-incremental change.
However, as John Kotter has observed, it’s possible to have too much or too little of either. Strong management with no leadership tends to entrench an organization in deadly bureaucracy. Strong leadership with no management risks chaos, and the organization itself may be imperiled as a result.
The best leaders have the ability to finesse the struggle between leadership and management. The friction between the two concepts helps the leader bring about optimal results through synergy. With neither leadership nor management, a rudderless organization would result.
With strong management and little leadership, however, you’ll find bureaucracy. Leadership with no management risks chaos because the constituents may be performing their roles according to their individual perceptions of reality. In a war, can you imagine what would happen if each soldier was empowered to do his or her own thing?
So, how should a leader finesse the crucial balance between management and leadership? I suggest that the leader recognize that each constituent and situation requires its own blend. It’s important to use the kind and degree of management or leadership that the employee, in whatever situation, requires. Management guru Ken Blanchard calls that strategy “situational leadership.”
Suppose you’re a parent with a young child. Is it better to tilt more toward management, or toward leadership? Consider what the situation requires. A young child needs to be watched over so that he doesn’t run into the street, wander off or eat something dangerous. A child needs direction, safety and careful tutelage. In many ways, a new employee in an organization needs a similar type of guidance.
With greater oversight and narrower restrictions, parents (and leaders/managers) begin the training of their children (or constituents). They teach values (corporate or family), culture and establish standards. They closely supervise, to assure understanding of the rules and compliance.
As children and employees learn, and become more capable of functioning without supervision, we can shift the dynamic between management and leadership. We can verify their learning and compliance. If steady, they can operate with less of our management or control. At that point, we can tilt in favor of leadership and empowerment. For example, once a new salesperson learns how to read blueprints and estimate costs, the manager no longer needs to double-check each bid.
Later, as teenagers become adults or new employees learn the system, they need even less direction and supervision. The only remnants of management that remain are the controls of the family’s or company’s systems, values, mission, and standards of performance.
Those shifts from close management to high-level leadership are easier to state than to work out in practice. Extracting the best of both opposing principles is the challenge inherent in dealing with paradoxes.
Occasionally, an empowered employee needs to be reeled in, and you’ll need to more strongly emphasize management. You can then coach the employee on how to eliminate an unacceptable behavior, or remind him or her of the necessary standards of performance.
Lack of accountability leads to mediocrity. So don’t stop monitoring your employees -- even the veterans. They all need to be accountable.
Leadership paradoxes are all around us. Recognizing, finessing and struggling with them will enhance your leadership. Therefore, I urge you to accept, embrace and celebrate the struggle between the contraries of leadership. It makes all the difference.