Leadership vs. Management
Part of the reason leadership suffers, in my opinion, is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of what leadership is. We often confuse leadership with title. Let’s say Susan is promoted to director. She is now an important leader, right? Yes, but mostly no. Susan hasn’t changed. Her reach has changed because she has position, decision authority and budget authority. So in that sense, Susan has the opportunity to lead.
If Susan pursues her role in the same manner in which she did her role as manager, she will simply become a director/manager. Is that a bad thing? No, of course not. Managers are important. The role of the manager is to attend to the functions of the near term. That is, the day-to-day items that need attending to, and to which the manager is uniquely suited by virtue of experience and authority to handle.
What happens, then when change must take place? Or worse, what happens during a crisis? We saw recently that the Captain of the ill-fated cruise ship in Italy allegedly abandoned ship prematurely. Of course I don’t know what was going on in his head, but on the surface, he seemed to care less about his passengers and more about other things. In a crisis, he provided little to no leadership at all. The function of leadership was left to crew members.
In business, leadership is crucial at three distinct times: times of crisis, times of change, and moving toward the future. Note that change and the future are inextricably linked, but have different dynamics. Change requires short term vision and high energy to make the change happen, and to create some permanence about it. This is a perfect place for staff to shine. Certain staff may see very productive options for change that, if staff are not asked for input, may go unnoticed. Anyone potentially can provide leadership at certain points. A wise manager will let that leadership happen.
The leadership of change is temporary, but important. Allowing staff to provide input and perhaps even to assist in leading the change, regardless of title, can be a powerful developmental moment, while sending the message that everyone is important.
I’ll talk about leadership during crisis and for the future in a future post.