Leadership and Management: We need both
Stephen R. Covey, in his perennial bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, offers this little tale to illustrate why we need both leadership and management. Imagine you’re one of twenty people trapped in a courtyard. You all want to get out. The managers will find a ladder. They will pick the tallest guy to climb first and be the lookout. They will get the strongest men and women to carry the little children. Everyone is lining up under the managers and getting ready to go, all racing to get out before the guards come back.
Except for one guy: He appears not to be helpful at all. He wanders off, this way and that, peering here and there, ignoring the managers and not helping out with the work.
Then he speaks up. Quietly, but in a voice that stops everyone, he says, “Wait, that’s the wrong wall. Climb over that wall, and we’re still trapped in the prison. Climb over this wall,” he says, “and we’ll be free.”
Quickly, the managers rearrange the plan. They move the ladder to the right wall. Everyone lines up in order, and, following the managers directions, all get out safe.
Leaders point us in the right direction. Managers get us going and keep at it until we’ve reached our goal.
Whether we’re running a one-person business or creating a new career or part of a large enterprise, we need good leadership and good management.
As an executive coach and business consultant, I’ve been learning and teaching about leadership and management for over 20 years. Many of my articles provide clear definitions and step-by-step instructions. This one is a bit different; It is more of an exploration. Please join me in a journey of inquiry, a deepening of understanding, in how leadership and management are both of great value, and how they can work together well.
In the previous story, things were done in the wrong order. Management came first – and was about to take everyone in the wrong direction. Leadership came and turned things around. But what if the new way out that the leader had found hadn’t used a ladder at all? What if it meant breaking through a trap door and creeping through a damp tunnel? All the managers good planning and everyone’s good work would have gone to waste.
There is a better way: Put leadership first. First, set direction. Then figure out the skills and tools you need to get from here to there. Do all the management planning after leadership has defined direction, not before. Then execute the plan, that is, do the work that takes you to success.
The lesson: Let’s put leadership first, so none of our planning and work goes to waste.
Leaders Dream and Do
Leadership is about dreaming and doing. George Bernard Shaw wrote, in Back to Methuselah, “You see things: you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never are: and say ‘Why not?'” The leader is a dreamer, and also open to the creative dreams of others.
But the leader is more than a dreamer. The leader is also courageous. He is willing to name the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one else wants to admit is there. She is willing to call out the problem or injustice that no one else wants to see. A leader is willing, quite simply, to face facts.
Without courage, creativity fails. Without courage, either nothing happens at all, or all our work is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
With courageous leadership, dreams can be made real and seemingly impossible problems can be solved.
Some leaders have their own vision. Others work to make someone else’s vision real. Others are peacemakers or problem-solvers. But all leaders have these qualities in common: We face reality; We solve problems; We make dreams real; And we leave behind a better world.
Busy Work, or Good Business?
Many of us spend way too much time in busy-work. We do all kinds of things, but deliver very little and contribute nothing of real value. Endless reports are written, and never read. My region of Florida is full of empty malls and offices, and yet new construction continues. Pharmaceutical companies make pills for ills that can easily prevented with a bit of diet and exercise. We live with and cope with problems, instead of genuinely healing. We settle for less, instead of genuinely creating.
People can do so much more than we are doing. The tremendous capability innate in each person is largely untapped. When we set a direction with good leadership, then organize effort with genuine management, we unleash all that power, all that potential, to get real work done. We solve real problems, make dreams real, and make all of our lives better.
Managers Prepare, Plan, Persevere, and Perfect
So the leader has set the direction. Managers now gather the people and resources needed for the journey, for the effort. That’s preparation. They work out the steps, and who will do what. That’s planning. They guide the process through to the end, ensuring that wrong turns are corrected and that no one drops out. That’s perseverance. And they fix any problems and deliver the results, that is they perfect, complete, and deliver the results, as close to the leader’s vision as the team can achieve.
Who owns it all?
As I write this article, I see that some people will read it and think that it is all hierarchical, and that the workers – the one’s who do the real work – are being pushed around by managers to fulfill some dream that belongs only to the leader.
That would be a poor use of workers, of managers, and of the leaders, as well.
As people working together on genuine teams, we can do much better:
- Leaders ask questions, and everyone is included in the answer. Everyone’s dreams are being made real.
- Managers ask questions, eliciting the skills, energy, and focus of each person on the team. They then let everyone do what they want to do, and coordinate it to shared success.
- And, as Lao Tse said in the Tao Te Chingabout 2,800 years ago, “The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”
From Confusion to Clarity
This would all be so easy if we were starting from scratch. But we’re in the middle of things, and everything is messy. In terms of leadership, it very hard to get people to see that they are going in the wrong direction and stop. Yet we are already going in the wrong direction.
In terms of management, it is hard to tell people that all our work is useless and accomplishing nothing. Yet, often that is true.
It is hardest of all to show people that someone, somewhere, has already solved the problem you are facing, and that the solution is easy, if you are willing to learn from others and to do things in a way that is new for you. We are all so attached to our old ideas and the hard work we have already done.
All this is difficult, but not impossible. If we are willing to stop coping with our problems, and, instead, access our innate courage and creativity, we can lead ourselves in the right direction. If, together or alone, we harness all our energy, we can solve big problems and achieve great things.
Together or Alone
Great leadership, good management, and effective work lead to wonderful results, whether we work together or alone. When a team can do it together, the results are awesome. But, if that is not happening, it is often best to persevere alone. Where there is conflict or foot-dragging, that is the 800-pound gorilla. And if everyone else wants to keep him in the room and ignore him, then someone who really wants to solve problems might just be best off walking out the door and going his own way.
And, maybe, a few people will follow him out the door, and leave the gorilla and the noise and the mess behind.
Those who are willing to work alone often find themselves bringing everyone together.
Creating Our Future
The greatest leaders have often had to work alone. Paul Hawken, the original New Age entrepreneur, author of The Whole Earth Catalog and Growing a Business, said that, if you have an idea for starting a business, and everyone says, “Great,” then you are too late. But if you have an idea and everyone says “Huh?” then you know you’ve got a great idea no one else can see, and it’s time to get started.
Some leaders are months ahead of their followers, and others are years ahead.
Great leaders are lifetimes ahead. Henry David Thoreau died almost unknown, under-appreciated, and barely read. Yet his writing, in Walden and in Civil Disobedience gave birth to: the American conservation movement in the early 20th century; the ecology movement of the 1970s; Gandhi’s peaceful liberation of India; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful Civil Rights movement. Vincent van Gogh’s paintings were not appreciated during his life, but he is now among the most celebrated and inspiring artists in the world.
You deserve a wonderful life, and the world deserves the gifts you have to offer. Please bring great leadership, good management, and dedicated work to your dreams, your work, your life, and the world.
About the author
Fletcher Kennith is executive coach and business consultant from MeowEssay. He has been learning and teaching about leadership and management for over 20 years. Also he has success in the areas of business development and sales management.