Yang: Versus, Either-Or: It’s A Lazy Way Of Thinking

Versus, Either-Or: It’s A Lazy Way Of Thinking

Los Alamos

In management talks, one common framing is “leaders vs. managers,” or, “leadership vs. management.” Many managers like to think that they are leaders when they can’t even manage well. And most self-proclaimed leaders think that managing is beneath them. 

Clearly, in our minds we assign values to these two roles. Yet, true leaders, with humility, spend valuable time understanding the people around them, their work, and the context; wise managers value the knowledge of how work is done and think holistically.  In great leaders, we see their managerial talents, and in great managers, we see their leadership qualities. Pitting one category against the other feeds small-minded egos, and often results in unfortunate decisions and counterproductive policies. 

More importantly, leadership qualities and management skills can be manifested in anyone without carrying any titles, depending on the context and situation. One doesn’t have to be a team leader to lead a project. There are many aspects involved in executing a project, and at any given time, someone, anyone, can seize the opportunity to lead with her suggestions or ideas. Or, one can take the lead in networking, scouting resources, or trouble-shooting during any phase of a project. Someone with impeccable administrative talents would be a godsend to me in my team!

In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, his “level-5” leaders (click here) exhibit and appreciate for detail, fact, and evidence, spend time to understand how work is carried out, do not seek credit or spotlights, have the courage to make risky decisions instead of hiding behind process and procedures, and give staff room to develop. My point is that true leadership and great management skills overlap quite a bit. 

However, in today’s ever-increasingly stressful work environment and our push for specialization, people feel they don’t have enough time to ponder and make distinctions. Putting everything in neat categories, assigning a value to every variable, or codifying every procedure appears to save us time, but we all pay the ultimate price of being boxed in, having little room to maneuver, or feeling neglected for our special talents. 

Just look at some basic aspects of our daily life. When you call a business with a question or a problem, be it an airline, wireless company, doctor’s office, etc., the gauntlet you have to go through to get to the “right” channel is maddening. By the time we are motivated to call an outfit, our needs may be so specific and individualistic that we can’t seem to find a fit with their system’s pre-determined categories. I usually just randomly choose an option and then explain my reason for calling; it seems to matter little just who I initially get hold of. Have you noticed that at each gauntlet “station” you have to explain your reasons to each agent all over again? 

Not only we are limited by the categories from which to choose, we contribute to the overall constriction by thinking we can choose only one of the two choices. Just two, either-or! 

When someone thinks that she’s a “leader,” and therefore only needs to focus on making big plans, dreaming big dreams, coming up with big visions, and attending strategic planning retreats, she often makes unrealistic demands on the lower ranks by imposing counterproductive deadlines, authorizing arbitrary budgets, or constraining staff power. Think of a leader you admire; I’ll bet that he knows his industry, his company’s capabilities, and his people’s skills, very well. He doesn’t just espouse lofty ideas. 

However big the dreams these admirable leaders have, they know how to push their dreams to reality, and they know what people they can rely on to help them realize the dreams. Knowing all the facts can paralyze an average leader or manager, and making a wise decision and driving it to execution isn’t limited to either management or leadership. 

“To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right.” (click here) by Bob Sutton, co-author (with Jeff Pfeffer) of The Knowing-Doing Gap & Hard Fact, Dangerous Half-Truths, & Total Nonsense.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

Editor’s note: Dr. Yang has a PhD in Management from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at Wharton for a number of years, and consulted for small groups and small organizations and on cross-cultural issues. Her professional worldview comprises three pillars: 1. All organizations are social systems in which elements are inter-related. 2. To improve organizations, the focus should be on the positive dimensions on which to build. This philosophical foundation is Appreciative Inquiry. 3. Yang subscribes to the methodological perspective that she is part of the instrument from which to gain quality data from respondents, and with which to compare and contrast with others’ realities.


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