After last week’s Learning Day on Wednesday, a number of Partners and I have had some great follow-up discussions about the differences between each of the speakers, particularly in regards to leadership and management styles. Some Partners noted that each of the three approaches their businesses differently, their commitments to various stakeholders, their communication styles, and perhaps even their personas. It’s great to hear this feedback from you all, so please do keep it coming! Thank you so much.
I wanted to touch on this very idea of differing management and leadership styles and in fact, what I think the difference is between the two. There’s been quite a lot written about these topics in the past, so I don’t want to beat to death a topic that’s already received noteworthy attention from noteworthy thinkers. Having said that, I think it’s important that we as a team have a shared understanding of what it may mean in our case. Please keep in mind that shared understanding doesn’t always necessitate agreement. I think we all long for different types of leaders in our lives, just like we have different relationships with the concept of management. Some of us prefer more direction while others prefer more autonomy, just like some of us prefer rice over noodles.
But to whatever extent possible for me to share my thoughts, it may be helpful to the team. Management and Leadership have a tremendous amount of crossovers and shared elements: Responsibility for others; Team and Individual Success; Strategy, Tactics, and Execution; People-focused results; Solving difficult problems. It is often challenging to say, “Oh, in that moment they were acting as a leader. In that moment they were acting as a manager.” There is so much overlap between the two. But some distinctions can be drawn. There are great manager leaders. There are great leader managers. There are some people who prefer elements of one over the other, some who prefer to mix and some who frankly prefer neither! An organization needs both managers and leaders in equal measure to thrive - one is not greater or lesser than the other. In order to succeed, there needs to be a team whose strengths and weaknesses complement each other. And the presence of effective managers and motivating leaders can make or break an organization’s growth. It’s imperative that we build a team of competent and experienced managers and leaders if we want to keep growing our company and make an even greater impact in our communities.
In my mind, great management is about removing complexity. The challenges managers face are most often making sense of complicated situations and navigating with a team to simplify those difficult situations into achievable tasks. Management is about efficiency - organizing the resources you have into their most useful arrangements - and doing things right. It is about observing the difficulties in a situation, designing an organization to overcome those difficulties by challenging the right people in the right places, and creating an atmosphere of consistency, order, and predictability. Management does not require for anyone else to be involved - managing ourselves is already quite a challenge!
We all face complex situations in our lives: multi-variable equations greedily consuming our time, energy, focus, capital, love, and any other resources we’ll let it. Managers remove the complexity from the equations and boil it down to simpler component parts, understanding what is necessary for each individual person to focus on so that the outcomes of the group reach desired level of success. The manager’s responsibility isn’t to make everyone happy - only individuals can choose to make themselves happy. But the manager’s responsibility is to continually organize and plan to remove complexity in order to enable the group to do more together than they could as a collection of individuals. Those who work with great managers know 'What I need to do, by when, and to what standard.’ When the journey is over, they say, ‘I did everything I was capable of to reach the goal.'
On the other hand, great leadership is about removing doubt. The challenges leaders face are most often guiding and encouraging a team to overcome obstacles that are not fully known, or not known at all. Leadership is about effectiveness - making difficult choices with the resources you have available - and doing the right things. It is about determining integrated goals to which the team aligns their efforts, aligning individuals to those goals regardless of their place within the organization, and creating an atmosphere of shared direction and passion that satisfies deep human needs. Leadership does necessitate followership - we are unable to lead unless there are others we can positively influence.
We all face doubt in our lives: Doubt in ourselves, doubt in others, and doubt in the institutions that underpin our societies. Leaders remove doubt from within us and among us by casting a vision that becomes shared among a group of people. The vision naturally does not appeal to everyone - it can’t. But for those who the version of the future does appeal to, the leader’s responsibility is to continually encourage and inspire that team. The goal is to remove doubt from their minds in order to achieve what the group never thought they were able to accomplish in the first place: steps closer to the future world in which every member of that group wants to live. Those who work with great leaders feel, 'We can accomplish this goal!’ When the journey is over, they say, ‘We did it ourselves!’
There isn’t a black and white line between the two, though there are some unique components to each. I hope that in the future we can continue to build teams of managers and leaders that rival any other organization or community. I encourage everyone to think about who are managers and leaders you admire. What about their actions and words appeal to you? What can you learn from them? What do you not want to learn from them? For in every manager and leader you observe at home, at work, in your communities, or in the news, I can guarantee you see someone continuing to develop and grow.
None of us have reached the upper limit of our management or leadership journeys. We are all works-in-progress.