One of the truisms of the last ten years has been the observation that what business needs is more leadership and less management. How true this is. Usually the distinction is made between leadership, which is effective, and management, which is efficient. And this rolls out into a number of other distinctions: leaders do the right thing whereas managers do things right. Finally, we get to the core point: management is transactional; leadership is transformational.
Of course, we need both but …
Why is it that managers, particularly in corporate institutions, spend a lot of time tackling people issues but never solving them? Instead, they approach the problems with the latest fad? What is the latest fad? Well I have no idea what the latest fad is, but fads include Myers-Briggs, 360 Appraisal, Coaching, Six Sigma, Balanced Score Card, Investors in People, NLP, “Sustainability”, empowering management, TQM, matrix management, and so on.
Thomas Davenport's 2003 book What's The Big Idea lists 140 fads (according to Leon Gettler). Also, every year consultants Bain & Company put out their latest survey of management tools – apparently, strategic planning is hot, mission and vision statements are on the way out and business process re-engineering is making a comeback (see http://blogs.theage.com.au/business/executivestyle/managementline/archives/2006/06/fashion_surfing.html)
Consultants (“fashion surfers”, again according to Leon Gettler) are usually blamed for this annoying situation, but this is like blaming sweet manufacturers for your own personal obesity. I mean, who chooses to buy and eat the sweets?
That’s right: the manager. And here’s where I think there is a real distinction to be made between leaders and managers. We need leaders – real leaders – because it is managers who routinely indulge in buying commodities from a packet. Nothing that involves solving people issues can ever be that easy, can ever work just like a magic bullet, or be like a software program that fixes the virus. And yet that is precisely what these managers do and expect: they buy a packet and then move on to the next one.
However, the plethora of products in this field fulfils one necessary function: the stimulation of the curiosity virus that each person has in the absence of an appreciation of the real issues. And one real issue is taking responsibility for the problem, including the self-audit (that often is inside the packet as well) and its implications.
One final distinction, then: leaders are outcome orientated, whereas managers are process orientated, but with one qualification: when we say ‘outcome’ we do not mean the usual ‘bull-in-a-china shop’ sort of outcome associated with trampling all over people and alpha-males. We mean the sort of outcomes that get a dual result: a result for the organization and a result for the people working in that organization. Now that is rare! And that is such a profound difference.
So managers now need to start looking, perhaps, for the magic box that when you open it transforms you into a leader …
Of course, that means change – you change, and that is the one thing process people don’t like.