Friday, October 28, 2011

Leaders vs. Managers

Here's the 2nd in a series of guest posts by Professor Jim Clawson, one of our Executive Development Program instructors for a custom program we offer on Leading Change.

I introduced Jim to Great Leadership readers a few weeks ago with a post called "A Four-wheel-drive Diamond in the Rough Leadership Model".

In this second installment, Jim offers his take on the difference between managers and leaders. I've always thought the "leader vs. manager" debate was kind of useless, and I wrote an early post about it here. However, I absolutely love the distinction Jim makes in this post. I've had a chance to hear him talk about the differences between "inside-out" and "outside-in" thinking and behavior a couple times. I think it's spot on and has had a impact on my approach to life.

Take a read, and let us know what you think.

Note: today, 10/28/2011, is the 4 year anniversary of Great Leadership. Over 500 posts, woo hoo! It's been an awesome ride and I plan to keep doing it until I run out of ideas or ambition, whichever comes first. Hope you've enjoyed it.

Leaders vs. Managers

Over the last month, I've participated in and observed a heated debate among academics (on-line) about the differences between leaders and managers. Everyone seems to have their own strongly held view and not much persuasion seems to have taken place. Perhaps this is an academic debate. For those striving to influence others and to make things happen, though, I offer what I think is an important distinction.

This distinction has to do with how much one lives outside-in versus inside-out. By "outside-in" I mean that one consciously or pre-consciously weighs what "they" might think before one acts or speaks. The more we adjust our behavior to fit in, the more we are living outside-in. And that's not all bad. It is the basis for orderly society. People drive on the correct side of the road, obey most of the laws, put on clothes in public, and speak with some deference and these things and many more allow for an orderly community.

At the same time, we can imagine in addition to how much we mindfully and mindlessly conform how much we initiate fresh thoughts and behaviors based on our own recognizance. How much do we allow original thoughts? Behaviors? Approaches? Insights? A community (or nation) that rates high on conformity is less likely to be adaptive, innovative, and probably even viable.

Why? Because things change.

So, here's the distinction I draw between leaders and managers. Both try to influence people but the underlying question is "with whose ideas?" Management (and again, it depends on how one defines the term, yes?) in my view focuses more on getting things done that others have determined, devised, and declared. Managers work toward goals, ideals, and outcomes--that others largely have set or prescribed. In that sense, while managers work hard to get others to do things, and are essential to every organization, they are living more "outside-in" than inside-out in that others have set the vision, the dreams, and the goals.

Managers tend to use what I will call "level one" and "level two" approaches. These are behavioral rewards and punishments for the former and logic and reason for the latter.

Leaders on the other hand are those who think beyond the current expectations and imagine a different emerging world. Leaders are those who see beyond current boundaries and expectations and dare to initiate stretches or changes or radical disruptions. Call it "vision" if you want, but the terminology is less important than the phenomenon--the ability to live more inside-out and less outside-in.

Of course, if one lives too much "inside-out" one might find one's self bankrupt or in prison. There are risks. And the risks run deep because they accrue to the leader's account not someone else's.

Take for example Jeff Immelt's eleven year run as CEO at GE. He inherited a company that had developed 20 years of cultural focus on fit and efficiency. Jack Welch's determination to get the right mix and then play only in games he could win created enormous wealth. Immelt decided that doing what was good for yesterday ever more efficiently wouldn't win the future. His emphasis on ten new technological innovative streams has yet to prove as financially successful as Welch's legacy. AND Mr. Immelt is clearly working inside-out. There's risk.

How much of your life do you live outside-in? That is, before you speak or act, how much do you consciously or semi-consciously think about what "they" will say? Are you willing to stretch or break current convention for the sake of a new initiative or direction?

People who live 100% outside-in and hence 0% inside-out, we might call "doormats," or "cowards" or "sheep" or as James Joyce termed it "clay." People who live 100% inside-out and 0% outside-in at the other end of the scale we might call ego-centric, self-centered, narcissistic SOBs.

On average, where are you on this scale? If you wanted to be a leader and not "just" a manager, where should you be on this scale? That is, in your view, how much inside-out would an effective leader be? Do you habitually ask others where we should go? Or do you find yourself habitually thinking of new visions and directions. I invite you to think about this tension-balance and observe yourself over time. And to reflect on how differences in the proportions of this tension-balance might define leadership and management.

Jim Clawson Bio:

James Clawson has been a professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia since 1981. He has consulted with dozens of large and very large corporations in various parts of the globe on issues of leadership, career management, leadership development, human resource management, organizational development, and related topics.

Author of Level Three Leadership, Dr. Clawson has helped executives and managers at all levels learn how to be more effective leaders in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Dr. Clawson received degrees from Stanford University (Japanese Language and Literature with great distinction), Brigham Young University (MBA in marketing), and Harvard University Graduate School of Business (DBA Organizational Behavior). He taught for three years at the Harvard Business School before joining the Darden School. He also taught as a visiting professor at the International University of Japan in 1991.

If you’d like to discuss having Jim work with your company, please contact Dan McCarthy, at daniel dot mccarthy at unh dot edu.


Dan McCarthy said...

Comment from Chase LeBlanc, via email:

Leader is a “role” and you can be plucked from a pile, groomed, bubble-up naturally, force-fed into it or quite literally, be the last one standing. It is brought into play when one is influencing/guiding/impacting others. Manager is a “job” of having responsibility for bringing about specific outcomes or overseeing certain activities. You can be a leader without management responsibilities, which is called a figurehead. If you have no other person within your span of influence (let’s say you’re operating a street-cart) then you can manage things without being a leader.
If you have the job of “manager” which includes supervision of others, then you are expected to show some iota of leadership skills, as it will be “on you” to get the group to pull together (without breaking apart) and to accomplish the tasks set forth. There are many good managers who are bad leaders and many (short-lived) acceptable leaders who are bad managers.
It is important to make a distinction between the two for illustrative purposes and instruction. Even though common belief holds that they are conjoined twins, they are in fact dizygotic twins. The same mother, but difficult and different skill sets.
For generations there have been debates about the concise definition of leadership. The truth is -- it depends. Leadership definitions are dependent on the team, situation, fate, timing, or definitions of success and most certainly upon the width or height of your travails. Additionally, it depends if you are speaking of leadership in the arena of business, military, science, religion or politics. And, it depends on whether you’re seeking a descriptor of leaders who are edgy or plain-Jane, powerful or powerless, figureheads or headless figures.
When it comes right down to it, leadership is influence. Yes, most organizations hold high the tangible metric “results” of the system/process/push and pull, but when it comes to people, the influencers at every level are the true leaders.
Here is the question for leaders/managers (Leadagers TM) – Are you relying strictly upon your job-granted positional authority to herd your fellows, or do you fly a flag that others wish to rally around?
In the end, leadership is simply the business of flag flying.
I'm suggesting “flag flying” as a metaphor for the “things” you provide when one is “in” the role of “being” a leader. It has been my experience that many underestimate the power of “how you are” – which in most cases is equally important to “what you do” -- If you empower others and foster an environment of trust and can also get projects done on time, scope and within the budget – what you do, and how you are (both) - travels before and after you. It becomes your “standard” or “flag” – folks are more readily inclined to be attracted by personal/professional “flags” with clear representations of past success (competence & completion) and future success (character & conditions) –
Thanks for the post!

Simon Cooper said...

I think the discussion surrounding leadership and management will be everlasting. However, this article presents one of the more compelling differentiation cases and one that has certainly made me think in a slightly new direction.

Thank you.

Tim G said...

Interesting post thanks for sharing (I really enjoyed Jim's first one too!).

I like the inside-out/outside-in comparison. As Jim said, either can have upsides and downsides - one downside to inside-out thinking that I've observed is people who look at the world with an inside-out perspective, but with rigid ideas and thought patterns that resist learning from the diverse persectives on the "outside" - the persepctives of other people do not enter into their own attitudes or ideas.

Also, I can't resist commenting on the leader vs. manager debate: from what I've seen/heard, few people are distinguishing between the role/title and tasks/actions of each. For example, I could be in the role of manager, but my job could require leadership actions. I could also be a non-manager who doesn't do a lot management-type work, but require leadership skills to get things done (influence, etc.).

I agree with Jim, from what I've seen in the debate, it seems like a lot of people pushing opinions, not as much listening to understand...perhaps too much of the dark side of inside-out thinking?

Natalie Cooper said...

Shouldn't we all be leaders in our own right?

I’d like to throw something into the mix. With the world becoming more flat, where remote and virtual working is becoming increasingly commonplace, shouldn’t we all be leaders of our own career and be empowered to achieve our own goals aligned to the collective vision of the company? I agree that the CEO, board and senior management set the vision and the values. However what if we changed the title of ‘manager’ and replaced that with the title ‘coach’.

A coach sets individual and team goals, offers support, stretches people, offers encouragement, positive and critical feedback.

The way to motivate and get the most out of employees is to nurture, to understand, to offer guidance, and provide them with the tools to be able to measure their success? Instead of the chain being leader | manager | employee, could it instead be: leader | coach | coachee and leader? A leader guides and empowers the employee to 'lead' themselves within a structured framework?

Gary Polsky said...

Thanks for the article. I appreciate your insight on how influencers, and how strongly a person is influenced by them, play a role on whether someone is deemed a leader or a manager. I agree leaders create "vision" within their companies and I'd like to add that super leaders create far-reaching vision in all areas of their lives. They envision how they want their lives to unfold and create a plan to live it that way - their career is just one facet of that plan. They are also driven with fiery urgency to fulfilling their vision! While managers are content exceeding goals that somebody else has made for them - consciously or not.

Anonymous said...

I read Level Three Leadership in 2000, and it is one of the finest books I've read on the subject. It requires the leader to scrimmage and dig deep to learn. I have used Dr. Clawson's Moral Rock of Leadership variables since 2000 to help prospective leaders and team members earn their trustworthiness stripes. I simply added the variable: acceptance of others (just as they are). I always enjoy his writing. Tks for placing this article in your blog!! Bill Parker

Capt Ron Curtis said...

Leadership guru John Maxwell defines the term with one word "influence." Leadership is all about influence while management is drastically different animal. There is a contemproary axiom out there that says leaders do the right thing while managers do what's right. Leaders can be seen as those on the front line of the battlefield while managers consider resources and necessities and make sure the leaders have what they need to get the job done.