February 13, 2010

Fire In The Belly

Recently I read a classic article in Harvard Business Review (March-April 1992) called “Managers and Leaders,” by Abraham Zaleznik, in which he differentiates between these two frequently confused types of people.

Some highlights:

Leaders

Managers

Personality

Shape the goals

Solve the problems

Decision-making

Open up new options

“Limit choices” to execute

Relationships

Emotion-driven

Process-oriented

Risks

Prudent risk-takers

Conservative risk-avoidance

Sense of self

Strong and separate

Based on the organization

In my experience, Zaleznik was correct in observing that leaders and managers are very different. In particular, I have seen the following.

· Discipline: Leadership is more of an art, and management is more of a science.

· Orientation: Leaders focus on “the what,” (i.e. effectiveness) and managers on “the how” (i.e. efficiency).

· Aptitude: Leaders are visionaries and motivators, and managers are skilled at execution and organization.

· Ambitions: Leaders seek to be transformational catalysts for change, and managers (as Zaleznik points out) seek perpetuation of the institution.

Given that leaders and managers are inherently dissimilar, advancement from management to leadership is not an absolute, nor is it necessarily a good thing. However, many managers aspire to be leaders, and with training, coaching, and mentoring, some can make this leap. Those who can make their mark as leaders are incredibly valuable to organizations because they know how to transform, shape, and illuminate the way forward. Of course, the role that managers play is incredibly valuable as well (probably undervalued), but nevertheless, they support and execute on the vision of the leader and as such a leader commands a premium.

What I think we can take away from Zaleznik’s work, then, is that a leader should never be thought of as just a manager “on steroids.” Instead, leaders and managers are distinct, and the synergy between them is healthy, as they each fulfill a different set of needs. In this vein, when organizations seek to recruit from within the ranks for leadership positions, it would be wise for them to look at candidates more discriminatingly than just looking at their managerial experience. (In fact, counter to the conventional wisdom, the best leader may never have been a manager at all, or may have been a mediocre or even a horrible one!) We cannot just expect that good managers will necessarily make good leaders (although to some extent success may breed success), but must look for what fundamentally makes a leader and ensure that we are getting what is needed and unique.

So what can a person do if they want to be a leader? In my view, it starts with believing in yourself, then genuinely wanting to achieve a leadership position, and after that being willing to do what it takes to get there. Baseline efforts include advancing your education, hard work, building relationships and credibility, and so forth, but this is only part of the equation.

The truth of the matter is, you can go to an Ivy League school and leadership boot camp for twenty years, but if you don’t have passion, determination, and a sense of mission or cause that comes from deep inside, then you are not yet a leader. These things cannot be taught or handed over to a person like a baton in a relay race. Rather, they are fundamental to who you are as a person, what drives you, and what you have to give to others and to the organization.

Regardless of what role we play, each of us has a unique gift to share with the world. We need only to find the courage to look inside, discover what it is, value its inherent worth (no matter what the dollar value placed on it), and pursue it.


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2 comments:

Glen B. Alleman said...

Andy,

Great reminder.

One thought though comes from personal experience working with a "leader" who reacts to every bump in the road with a emotional response, loosing sight of the cause and fix for the bump, connecting instead with the emotional disruption of the event.

Who's sense of self is strong and separate ending up in the position of "it's all about me," asking little of others contribution of opinion.

Chad M. said...

I disagree on only one point. In my view leaders need to focus on the "Why" rather than the "What". I view this, as Simon Sinek does, from a perspective of putting WHY first. If we define WHY and gain support of WHY then the HOW and WHAT can be sold emotionally to stakeholders. Failing to define WHY, however, will enable even the most well defined WHAT and HOW objectives fail.

Leaders - Focus on WHY
Managers - Focus on HOW
Result = WHAT