Are we backtracking? Absolutely not! We have written (and spoken) often about the differences between leaders and managers, and have turned up the snark machine to 11 in dismissing those administrators who think that riding shotgun is the same thing as driving the stagecoach.
But we are ultimately realists and recognize that if everyone were a leader, there would be no one left to be followers. And without managers and administrators, there would be no one to tell us: 1) that we were following the right trail; and 2) when we might be due to arrive at the safety of the fort and the protection of the cavalry.
TO RECAP THE DIFFERENCE ...
Peter Drucker, and others of that generation, spent a lot of time on defining and directing us toward their perceptions of the value and benefit of scientific management. Never mind that the concept of leadership may have been trampled in the stampede. And let us turn a blind eye to the omission of leadership exposure and development in the coveted M.B.A. degree, even from the most prestigious academic institutions.
The debate around whether leadership is inborn or can be learned is a subject for another day. For now, let's consider what contemporary thinkers see as the functions of managers and administrators. At its essence, the manager's job encompasses a range of functions, including organizing; creating detailed plans; communicating; aligning team members; watching timelines, resource expenditures, commitments, and milestone accomplishments; reporting and blowing the whistle as needed; and conducting meetings.
These are clearly not leadership. But leaders need managers to turn visions into reality.
In short, someone has to count the paper clips. Someone has to bayonet the wounded. Meanwhile, it is the leader whose role it is to think about whether or not we really need paper clips, or what might replace the paper clip in five years' time. It is the leader who must decide how to handle those who can't keep going.
USING OUR BRAINS
The simple, but too-often ignored, fact is that we are all wired differently. We may look more or less the same outwardly, but we think in terms and perspectives that are figurative miles apart. And while environmental influences can have some effect, the differences are predominantly ones of nature and not nurture. We are predisposed to be dreamers, or administrators, or "show me the money" tyrants, or caregivers.
Vision without execution is hallucination, said someone famous (often attributed to Thomas A. Edison, also to Henry Ford). I'd go further and add a descent into delusion. So, an organization that is permitted to only focus on vision can easily utterly fail. Think of an Indy car race team that neglects to change tires or top off fuel.
Where we, in the collective, fail all too often is in recognizing the value of all the skills and attributes that are needed for the highest levels of sustained success. Yes, the leader. Certainly the dreamer, the visionary (who is not always the leader). Definitely the bottom-line person who forces the organism to aim at what makes business sense, creating profits, generating shareholder value, leveraging assets for optimal return, and balancing social and economic objectives. For the long haul, the caregiver, who protects the interests, emotions, and well-being of the working associates involved in the enterprise. And finally, the manager/administrator, who makes sure that processes and protocols are followed, who eagle-eyes the reality of progress against timelines, budgets, and outcomes—and publicly humiliates those who would attempt to sweet-talk their way through the exercise.
WORKING AND PLAYING WELL TOGETHER
All of that is easy enough to say, and consultants have a way of making almost everything easy, simple, powerful, and difficult to dispute. What we are talking about here, though, may not be simple—although it is certainly not rocket science. It is definitely not easy, because it involves human beings at a visceral level and is not just pushing pieces around on a chessboard. It is logical, at least in the abstract. And it is definitely powerful, if only it could be put into practice.
News flash! It can be put into practice, but not if people aren't willing. Logic will hardly ever trump stubborn opposition. Our take is that the payback makes the difficult effort worth the work, but it is by no means a walk in the park.
The foundational challenge is that these different kinds of people, left to their own devices, shun—or worse yet, kill—the others. The dreamers and visionaries have zero tolerance for the micro-managers. The "show me the money" team thinks that the dreamers are breathing valuable air that might be put to better use by others. The micromanagers distrust all others, but especially the rule-breakers and those who would take short cuts. And the ninth circle of a very bad place has, in their view, been reserved for those who decide that some control process steps are either optional or inappropriate to the circumstances. Further, almost everyone else thinks that the caregivers are a bunch of crybabies who would not last 24 hours on their own.
TO RECAP THE DIFFERENCE ...
OK, we get it. This is hard work, very hard. It's tough to convince flinty-eyed managers, and even somewhat enlightened leaders, that this is the way to go for the future. But with each passing day, there are more examples of how enterprises can thrive by integrating initiatives to put disparate high-achieving teams together with traditional efforts to transform, improve, elevate, and energize supply chain planning and execution. At the same time, the pressures to collaborate more intelligently with customers, suppliers, and organizational peers are growing. The horizon must extend beyond the next deal and the next contract extension.
Buckle up. Your choices involving adoption of this more integrated perspective involve some risk. Simply being along for the ride opens up the possibility of being thrown from the shotgun seat when the stage careens off the first big rock. But surviving that bump in the trail can leave you alone and vulnerable in hostile territory, as the rest of the riders extend the frontier.
You'll thank a manager if your pack includes a map and a list of survival tips, along with enough rations to get you through burning sun and frigid nights.