Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Managing and Leading

In the August 17th Business Week, the back page article by Henry Mintzberg argues we are 'overled and undermanaged'. [As an aside, the article in the magazine was called "We're Overled and Undermanaged" but online the same article is called "The Best Leadership is Good Management" hmmm!]

He writes that it became fashionable a few years ago to say that Leaders "do the right thing" while managers "do things right" - and that crucially we've been told that Leaders need to be detached from what is going on day-to-day in managing. This detachment resulted in much of our financial crisis, i.e., the heads of banks and investments did not know what was going on, being so caught up in 'leading', and the problems rolled into a giant mess.

It is true that you as the head of a group or business have to have some detachment from the immediate issues at hand. Being too caught up in day to day is sometimes characterized as 'fire fighting' where you are solving immediate problems all day and no time devoted to larger issues.

This detachment (or lack thereof) is not a characteristic of Leadership, rather the defining characteristic of Leadership is to be able to detach from the particular when necessary to understand what is happening over the entire organization. Leading is not standing in front of a PowerPoint with the 5 goals for the year (strategy) or even setting the tactics of a marketing campaign. If anything, leading is creating an environment wherein the organization and its members - employees - can be successful. And a necessary condition of success is good management.

This reminds me that for many years, the most influential movie on managers about leading was the WWII movie, 12 O'clock High, released in 1949. Gregory Peck's character was not detached from the management of his bomber squadron, just the opposite: he flew with them. You might take the opportunity to watch it if you've never seen it!

Finally, I might comment that the back page of Business Week is where Jack Welch's article is placed (on vacation the week of this piece). Jack is often considered one of the best leaders of this generation who oversaw huge and drastic firings of employees, especially at the outset of his being head of GE. How might we view his leadership (or management) in light of the above?

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