Management Versus Leadership – A Primer for the 21st Century

I know that you typically look for submarine stories here at TLS. At last count, I think there are over 860 stories. Hopefully, that number will continue to grow.

But every once in a while, I think its good to remember why I started writing the blog beyond a good sea story. I have been studying leadership for nearly forty eight years. I started as a young sailor reading books that described how best to lead in a Navy environment. Later I added submarines as a unique field of leadership studies. When I made the transition to Chief Warrant Officer, I was exposed to even higher levels of thought based on my new responsibilities.

As a civilian, I continued my studies through each of my work assignments. Even today as someone who is semi-retired, I love keeping up with leadership ideas and innovation.

Today’s story is about the difference between Management and Leadership. I forget sometimes that my journey was blessed with regular exposure to classes, books, and real life examples of leadership in the military, business and non-profit organizations. I even teach classes to businesses on a regular basis. SO maybe I take it for granted too much that everyone is on the same page. Then life reminds me that we are not.

Management versus Leadership

One of my favorite books on Leadership comes from the Dale Carnegie series called “The Leader in You”. The book combines much of the wisdom of the past hundred years as business and organizations have changed. It’s surprising how much of what Dale Carnegie espoused back in the days before the giant technological advancement of computers is still true today.

The single biggest thing every one of us has to accept: We still have to deal with people.

Technology has actually made dealing with people much more complicated. The speed with which we share information and data is beyond our understanding. But notice one word that is missing: communication.

That’s right. We are passing information between us at higher and higher rates of speed and with tools that the average person has such little understanding of that we have actually stifled real communication beyond any point in history. Information and data are so easily manipulated that the original message is almost obscured.

The same thing has happened with leadership.

In the early days of the twentieth century, management was the principle way that things were run. People who had responsibilities were primarily found in their offices and managed their work from a distance. As the book “The Leader in You” points out, people were expected to “manage”. You never really deviated from the path much and you made sure that no one else did either.

That was probably okay for the days in which it happened. But the world has changed.

“The world is too unpredictable, too volatile, too fast-moving for such an uninspired approach.”

What is needed now is Leadership. Leadership is defined as the force that creates the vision, inspires innovation, coaches and mentors, and builds relationships.

Flexibility and the ability to predict changes is more valuable now than at any time in the recent past. No longer is it acceptable to just wait in the shadows for change to occur and develop brilliant reaction plans. They are neither brilliant nor actual plans. They are reactionary and will result in an incredible waste of energy and human capital which ultimately destroys any chance for effectiveness. When you spend so much energy overcoming barriers that you did not anticipate, you have so much less energy available to innovate.

Simply put, managers spend most of their energy holding onto the past and its reactionary point of view and leaders look to the future with a predictive and innovative point of view.

Leadership Excellence means that you understand the need to develop the people who are part of the organization and understanding that some people will not be part of the drive forward.

This illustration was captured so well by Jim Collins and company in his book “Good to GREAT”. Chapter 3 speaks about the importance of having the right people in the bus. All of the “GREAT” companies found out early on that the right people were not necessarily in the right places. As difficult as the decision is, sometimes you just have to realize that in order to achieve greatness, some people will not be part of the journey.

The Good to Great leaders understood three important things:

  1. If you begin with who rather than what, you can more easily adapt to changes that are sure to come along the way. A person who only joined the group because of the original direction they imagined things would go will quickly lose interest when the need to change direction occurs.
  2. If you have the right people on the bus, the need to manage and motivate largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be managed at all and never need to be fired up. They are contributors to the innovation while staying aligned to the core values
  3. If you discover that you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter if you are going in the right direction or not. Great vision without great people is irrelevant and will never be achieved.

Great leadership means that you surround yourself with people who are willing to achieve greatness. This people are not so inner focused that they can’t do everything needed to help the organization achieve the excellence that is demanded in the chaotic world we live in today.

If you are spending more time managing than leading, you are never going to achieve great things. Ultimately, you may be a “great” manager but no progress will be achieved in satisfying the vision needed to achieve excellence.

Thanks for letting me share a part of your day.

Mister Mac


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