Are you a leader? Or a manager? During difficult times, we need both. But they are different, and the skill sets are seldom wrapped up in the same person. My friend John thought he was both, a leader and a manager. He insisted that he wanted his staff to “think outside of the box”, be creative and innovative, and share his vision for the work being done. But at the same time, he imposed very strict policies, standardized processes, and an environment that required a great deal of conformity among colleagues, in order to manage things efficiently. I don’t have to tell you how that turned out, but I will. People were confused, frustrated, and increasingly cynical about John and his leadership.
Leaders and managers are different, and the differences are not minor. To the manager, work life is a series of problems to be solved, and tasks to be completed. To the leader, work life is adventure, opportunities to be taken, and possibility to be chased. At the management level, we bring knowledge and skills–hiring, scheduling, finance, problem solving, etc. What happens in most effective organizations is simply good management, stabilizing things, creating predictability through standardized behaviors and processes, setting policy, hiring and deploying staff, attending to budgets and production, and improving performance through process changes, all marvelous value-adding management activities. But these actions are management, not leadership.
At the leadership level, in addition to management skills, we bring growth and change through wisdom, vision, compassion, courage and intention. Leadership is a practice requiring that you question the present, craft the future, and do it all with certainty that your plans will always change. Leaders change things, and act on new possibilities, new vision, and new energies. While managers use data and reason to drive decision-making and problem solving, leaders must often rely on intuition and inspiration in the face of imperfect data. While managers work to minimize risk and amplify results, leaders use calculated risk as a source of energy and focus. Managers bring a level of rational pragmatism to the work, while leaders bring a measure of emotional energy and opportunism. In a very real way, it is the leader’s job to disturb the peace, while demonstrating heart, and ensuring that those doing the work find meaning that feeds their spirit. If you want extraordinary performance, it is not enough to be “realistic” or “reasonable”, to do the expected or to be “normal”. You must be willing to be different, extraordinarily different. Today, more than ever, we need bold, courageous, and perhaps unreasonable leaders willing to act in an environment of constant change, people who can exercise intuition and judgment, and inspire others to greatness, while taking risks to make things better.
Such intentional leaders are driven by passion and fulfilled by extraordinary results. If you want to be a leader, be one, and don’t do as my friend John did, don’t micro-manage your staff.