Friday, 5 August 2011

Manager or Leader: red-herring

Should bosses be managers or leaders? Is there a difference? Can leaders be managers? Can managers be leaders? Whatever, it’s irrelevant. The debate’s a red herring.

It was maybe relevant in industrial-age 20thcentury when the boss’s prerogative was simply to control workers either by inspiring (leading) or manipulating (managing) them; when leaders and top managers (executives) were the unquestioned priests of the church of Industrial Management.

It’s time to break the spell. It served the industrial age well but it’s an albatross round the neck of business in the post industrial age: where rates of change are exponentially increasing and high-wage economies and maybe ecological survival depend on people being radically creative, passionately engaged, deeply committed and highly collaborative; where everyone’s a marketer because everyone in the organisation vitally affects the customers’ experience.

This new world needs a fresh understanding of leadership that enables diverse personal strengths to flourish in rich, close, open collaboration; that enables each member to lead according to their strengths.

We need a new understanding that charismatic leadership is just one of many forms of leadership: that, for instance, an introverted analyst can lead precision and attention to fine detail; an independent egotistical salesperson can captain sales effort; a systematic, reliable process improver can lead quality assurance.

It’s time for the “leaders and drivers” to allow the rest to actively and vitally engage in leadership. Trouble is, everything in conventional experience tells us, leaders and led, that that’s courting disaster: inviting anarchy; presiding over descent from control into chaos.

Yet conventional leaders and managers who deliberately learn to allow other forms of leadership to flourish, experience almost miraculous results. The learning’s not easy. It feels risky: like managerial suicide. It’s counter intuitive. But with wise support and professional coaching it happens. Not overnight but typically over 2-3 years with early signs of success clearly evident in 12 months.

This change isn’t something that leaders and managers do to others. It’s fundamentally what leaders and managers do to and amongst themselves. It’s about the systematic changes they make to their interpersonal behaviour and expectations.

It’s about the changed responses that they receive in a spiral of change from mechanical co-operation to dynamic, interpersonal collaboration. It’s about organisation changing from “boxes and wires” structures to rich webs of interpersonal relationships between people with diverse talents and strengths and deeply shared purpose.

This is the new key to competitive success in the 21st century. Are you up for it?

Will you dismiss it as “crazy-idealistic” dreaming considering the sort of people you have to work with? OK. Carry on as usual. Maybe your market will stay locked in the 20th century. If it doesn’t, get ready to eat the dust from your competitors who make the change.

Also published on MPS Pegasus


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