Friday, March 9, 2012

LStriking the Right Lead-Manage Balance: The Secret to Effective Leadership

In his autobiography, My American Journey, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell defined leadership as “the art of achieving what the science of management says is impossible.” In my own books on leadership, Things I learned from My Grandmother about Leadership and Life, and Taking Charge:  Effective Leadership for the Twenty-first Century, and in my other writings about leadership and management, I say that management is the art of ‘doing things right,’ while leadership is about ‘doing the right things.’

The assumption that is quite correctly made from this is that leaders and managers are two different species.  Leaders determine the direction, and managers move the organization smoothly in that direction.  There is, however, a danger in taking this distinction too far.  While they are different, good managers must have some of the traits of effective leadership; and, the most effective leaders must also understand management.
The key for either is striking the right balance.

I’d like to look at it from the perspective of leadership.  Why does a leader, who is responsible for establishing and communicating the vision for an organization, also have to be a good manager? After all, if you’ve clearly communicated the vision, why can’t you simply step back and allow your subordinate managers achieve it?  One of the things I often say is that effective leaders don’t micromanage; so, isn’t it micromanagement for a leader to become involved in an organization’s management?
The answer isn’t a simple yes or no.  It’s a balancing act that the truly great leaders learn and practice.  Knowing when to insert yourself, and more importantly, when to withdraw, is a skill that you must, however, master if you’re to be an effective leader.

The management skills you need begin with yourself; time management being one of the most important.  Husbanding your time effectively is essential if you’re to move your organization in the desired direction, and have enough energy to sustain the level of effort that will be required.  Awareness of resource availability and capability is another skill that good leaders must have.  A vision is only as good as the capacity of an organization to achieve it, so the good leader either shapes his vision to accord with resource limitations, or finds ways to obtain the necessary resources.
Metrics is the mantra of modern management, and, while leaders don’t have to be the number crunchers that most good managers are, it helps to have more than a surface understanding of the key metrics of your organization.  As a leader, you should know how much will be needed to achieve your goals, and be able to assess how effectively those resources are being utilized.  And, by resources, I mean, material, money, and people.  Effective managers are skilled at mastering the details of charts, graphs, and ledger sheets.  A good leader doesn’t need to get ‘down in the weeds’ of these management tools, but he or she must be able to grasp their significance.

Good managers should know how and when to delegate, but effective leaders must be ‘super’ delegators, while at the same time being able to understand, and in some cases, perform, most of the functions of their organizations.  Not, mind you, at the same level of skill as those who are experts at it, but well enough to be able to tell at a glance when something is being done correctly or incorrectly.
While I was writing this, and image came into my mind.  An effective leader is like an expert juggler and showman. Not, mind you, like the expert manager, who is capable of keeping all of the balls in the air, never dropping one.  The effective leader can keep all the balls in the air, but he must also know when it would be appropriate to drop a ball or two, and the truly great leader goes ahead and drops those balls, but using his showman’s skills, convinces everyone in the audience that this was part of the performance all along.

We must all become comfortable with change; the one constant in life; but, effective leaders must be more than merely comfortable with change; they must embrace it.  In fact, good leaders cause change – anathema to most managers, who find their comfortable existences disrupted by too much change.  As a leader, you must be more than a change manager, you must be a change initiator, while at the same time, understanding how such change impacts the management environment, and introducing it in a way that meshes with management capability.
Leadership is, in essence, I have concluded, a balancing act.  Striking the right lead-manage balance, is the true secret to effective leadership.