photo by CharlieGentle
Imagine that you get your dream job as the head coach of one of the best football teams in the world. You have been dreaming of this job since you were a kid. The team has just lost some of its key players and is looking to purchase some new players and train some young ones. You dive into the job immediately. You do two things to begin your new plan. You set up trial training for a number of prospective players. In these training sessions, you ask them to demonstrate their basketball capabilities. You also create a training program for the entire team, including the junior players, to improve their basketball capabilities.
Sounds crazy, right? Why would a football coach test and train players for basketball?
But this is exactly what companies do all the time. You look at the big companies, their training programs and brochures and they all talk about leadership, training leadership and looking for leadership. But how many people are really in a leadership role or need to use leadership capabilities on day by day basis? Most people in firms that get to a key role are managers, not leaders. It requires different talents and skills to be a great manager than those needed to be a great leader. And you know what? There is only a handful of people who can do both really well. It makes sense. After all, Michael Jordan, who was the greatest basketball player ever, was only a mediocre golf or baseball player.
In the following week, in the organizational behavior class I am taking in my MBA we are going to discuss the subject of leadership. I read the material and was (as usual when dealing with this subject) surprised to find how much has been written about this subject, without getting to a clear definition. I guess leadership will always be one of these things that you can recognize when you see it, but never define. One thing is pretty clear. There is a clear distinction between leadership and management. Some scholars even argue that the skills set needed are actually opposite to one another. But all the material about this subject keeps failing to address this difference and talks about leadership and management as one.
Just look at this advice for new leaders, from the Harvard business review blog:
Learning to delegate is difficult. It’s tempting for all of us, especially ambitious business professionals, to believe that unless we do something ourselves, it won’t be done right. What new leaders need to understand is that by not delegating, they’re disrespecting not only others but themselves. They’re not using themselves to their best advantage, and they’re demonstrating that they haven’t learned one of the key truths about leadership, which is that the only way to make your weaknesses irrelevant is to respect others’ strengths and use them.
This is some great piece of advice. For managers. Delegating is not part of being a leader. I know it is hard to make the distinction. God knows I sometimes make the same mistake. But it is important to try. And I know this seems to be a semantics issue. But it is not. It is at the heart of people’s performance, because it affects the way they perceive themselves and the goals of their actions – future oriented (leaders) or present oriented (managers).
If you find someone who could be both a leader and a manager, hold on to him. He is a valuable asset. But in the meantime – find people with the talent to be good managers and give them the right training and skills. Find the people who have amplitude for leadership, and give them the right training and skills. And above all, set your expectations right. Most of your managers should not be expected to be leaders. Only those in the right places with the right talents should be expected to be leaders (or leaders and a little bit of managers). If the expectations are set wrong it causes confusion and makes people concentrate on things that they are not good at.