DON'T FORGET TO MANAGE WHEN YOU ARE LEADING


Dont_forget_manageIt's easier to come up with ideas and tell others to make them so, but you also need to roll up your sleeves and understand what it takes to make those ideas a reality. 


The distinction between leading and managing is a subject of ongoing debate. Leading is often characterized as the more glamorous job: leaders guide, influence, and inspire their people while managers implement ideas and get things done. But leaders who focus exclusively on coming up with big, vague ideas for others to implement can become disconnected from their team or organization. Avoid being a "big-picture only" leader.

 

Make decisions and develop strategies that take into account the real-world constraints of cost and time. Stay involved with the details of implementation. Sure it's easier to come up with ideas and tell others to make them so, but you also need to roll up your sleeves and understand what it takes to make those ideas a reality.

 


 

Warren Bennis wrote in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader  that "There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial." And in one of his most famous lines, he added, "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing."

 

Although this distinction is more or less correct, and is useful to a degree, it has unintended negative effects on how some leaders view and do their work. Some leaders now see their job as just coming up with big and vague ideas, and they treat implementing them, or even engaging in conversation and planning about the details of them, as mere "management" work.

 

Worse still, this distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve. I remember hearing of a cell phone company CEO, for example, who never visited the stores where his phones were sold — because that was a management task that was beneath him — and kept pushing strategies that reflected a complete misunderstanding of customer experiences. (Perhaps he hadn't heard of how often Steve Jobs drops in at Apple stores.)

 

That story is typical. "Big picture only" leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway .

 

Some of the most unlikely and impressive things have been done by dreamers. But one characteristic of the most respectable of them is that they also have remarkably deep understanding of the industry they work in and the people they lead, and they are willing to get very deep into the weeds. This ability to go back and forth between the little details and the big picture is also evident in the most successful leaders who aren't usually thought of as dreamers.

 

Anne Mulcahy's efforts to turn around Xerox were successful in part because of her in-depth knowledge of the company's operations; she was very detail-oriented during the crucial early years of her leadership. Bill George, one of Jim Collins' level 5 leaders, said that, in his first nine months as CEO of Medtronic (a medical device company), he spent about 75% of his time watching surgeons put Medtronic devices in patients and talking with doctors and nurses, patients, families, and hospital executives to learn the ropes.

 

In fact many business goals cannot be achieved because of absurd deadlines, tiny staffs, small budgets, and in some cases, because it simply wasn't technically possible to do what the leaders wanted, they were blamed. Such sad tales further reinforce the view that thinking about what could exist, and telling people to make it so, is a lot easier than actually getting it done.

 

The best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management. Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.

 

Therefore, harking back to the Bennis theorem quoted above, a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done."  When we glorify leadership too much, and management too little, there is great risk of failing to act on this obvious but powerful message.