This is the leader-manager’s dilemma.
John Kotter makes a distinction between leaders’ and managers’ focus. Leaders’ domain is complexity, identifying opportunity, scanning the environment and spurring change to address it. They’re focusing on answering, “What’s right for this organization?”
Managers (paraphrasing Kotter) are focused on answering, “How do we do this right?” They stand out as the ones who can make the most of the system or develop new systems to get the most out of people and processes in ways that are repeatable and motivating. I’ve met a few of these geniuses of consistency and operational clarity. They always open my eyes to the profound value of managing.
You can disagree with Kotter if you like, but practically speaking, every manager needs to be an operational genius all day long and still provide leadership. The ambiguity that comes with steady change means that there is no steady state or equilibrium that we can call rest. The chances that we’re going to end up back in that comfortable position again are nil.
Every one of us have to be leaning forward and sniffing the air for change. Stay loose, be clear is my advice to myself as we begin to hire folks and create a training SWAT team, so to speak.
What do you tell yourself to keep your eyes on being a both a leader and manager every day?
I had dinner with an old friend a couple days ago and he told me this story.
My son – he’s four – has been going to a great daycare this summer. They organize some kind of learning around theme days. Last week they chose pirate days. I’m not sure what they learned, but he brought home a little plastic compass. Apparently you need compass on the bounding main. I was leaving for work the next day. I said goodbye and he offered me the compass.
“Here, Daddy,” he said. “Take this with you so you always know which way is North.” You know how that turns your heart to loving mush. But he didn’t want me to get lost and knew that pirates use a compass to find their way on the open sea. I was delivering training to new managers that day. I started class by assuring them, “Thanks to my son, we can”t get lost, no matter what happens, because I have a compass and I know where I’m going.”
Not a verbatim account, but that’s what I heard.
We are all our own leaders
Every day the demands on the job threaten to distract us from the few simple good things we’re aiming at. Thanks to a four year old, I’m reminded of the two most important principles to live and work by, no matter what you do or what level you’ve achieved in the organization.
Principles for being your own leader (Thanks to Cap’n Jack)
- Stick to the heading the leads to your destination.