So You Want To Be A Leader?
I among others have had the opportunity to discuss and debate what differentiates leadership and management on the "pages" of this blog, linkedin, and a number of other venues as have thousands of others smarter than me.
I ran across a summary of an interview with Robert Dolan, Dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, on BNET that I think summarized it it more succinctly than I have ever seen or heard before. He stated, "a manager maintains the status quo and delivers profitability, a leader performs three essential functions-
- they develop and encourage great talent merely with their presence
- they see new opportunities and innovations and push the organization to pursue them
- they act as a moral compass for the organization and role model the appropriate adoption of the organizational values and principles."
We can argue for decades about all of the other characteristics and attributes, but what I really like about Dolan's point is that they describe action and doing rather than passivity.
I found this summary especially timely because I hear the media and others starting to declare that the recession is "over". It is over because the stock market is moving up and large corporations are starting to declare profits again. I guess the fact that they expect unemployment to remain in double digits for the foreseeable future and that we have a health care crisis represents a rounding error. Not to me.
I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist. I was hoping that the recession would serve as kind of a national wake up call on a number of key societal issues. As anyone who has read my blog, my book, or other publications knows I am a big fan of engagement, true engagement. That is a system where stakeholders align in a common purpose. Studies show that organizations who adopt and maintain engagement strategies outperform their competitors in every key dimension. I was hoping the recession would cause more organizations to recognize that engagement is not only necessary, it is good for business.
I still remain hopeful that the "end" of the recession doesn't mean we think we have solved the health care issue. We have a very expensive system that delivers health care inefficiently and with pretty poor outcomes.
I am also a fan of personal competency. Getting away from the corporate and governmental codependency that has dominated our economic model for the last several generations. Employees need to be given an opportunity to engage and in return they need to be educated and expected to play a role in decisions about their health, their long term economic security, and generally be financially literate.
Much of the debate around leadership is whether leaders are born or "taught". Is it a series of characteristics or traits or is it behavior? I kind of like the behavior model. If you have capacity and you don't do anything with it are you really a leader? I think that is similar to the point Malcolm Gladwell made in Outliers, a high IQ in and of itself is no guarantee of spectacular success either personally or professionally, you must apply it.
When I look at where we got to and how we got there I have to tell you I see a lot more people in business and government who are managers- protecting the status quo and profitability; than leaders, individuals who develop deep talent, challenge their organizations to innovate, and act as moral compasses and role models not only internally, but externally.
Even the debate over health care represents an interesting model; we recognize it is compromised, but we seem (at least our "leadership") to embrace significant change in a model that doesn't work in delivering against key performance measurements.
I heard earlier this week that the performance bonuses paid out by the major financial institutions exceeded their recorded profits. Am I the only one who missed the logic of that decision?
How can we declare the recession is ending with record unemployment?
So for me I like Professor Dolan's definition of leadership. To his three characteristics I would add two more of my own:
- Come to work every day prepared to be fired for doing the right thing.
- Think about your "legacy", what you leave behind more than your "career", what you take with you.
It would appear to me that if you choose leadership rather than management as defined by Dr. Dolan you might not find the field nearly as crowded. What do you think?