Leadership or Management

By Guy Higgins

My last post (about Elon Musk’s communication memo/email to Tesla employees) included a short comment about Mr. Musk’s use of “manager” and my preference for “leader.” I want to explore that more this week.

To provide some clarity in “communicating,” I want to start with my definitions of leadership and management:

  • Leadership is people-focused. The goal of leadership is to create and maintain an organization/team/company/whatever that can and does perform optimally (and I use that word intentionally) along numerous “dimensions” (such as employee morale, resource allocation, efficiency). Leadership is a skill. There are natural and learned components to it – just as there are to any skill. Some people have personalities and temperaments that contribute more to successful leadership while other peoples’ personalities and temperaments contribute less. People at both extremes can improve their leadership through education, coaching/mentoring and practice.
  • Management is resource-focused. Those resources can include people, but (I will boldly assert) people are only one resource among others. The goal of management is the efficient (and effective) allocation of resources in achieving goals. Metrics and monitoring are crucial to management.

There is obviously potential overlap of leadership and management. That overlap is essential for success. An observation that I particularly like is, “Leadership without management is a recipe for disaster while management without leadership is a recipe for mediocrity.” Organizations of whatever ilk can afford neither disaster nor mediocrity and, therein, lies a point – companies need both management and leadership – preferably in the same person

Most of my posts on leadership topics capture the point that leadership is hard – and it is. That doesn’t mean that I think that management is easy – only easier than leadership.

  • Management of resources must include the routine use of metrics to understand both the effectiveness of processes and the efficiency with which resources are being used. Generally, these metrics are objective – meaning that you are measuring some actual quantity and using that measurement in a rigorous analysis. Earned Value Management (EVM) is a classic example. EVM measures two things, starting at the lowest level of the labor effort – sometimes a single person:
    • How much money has been spent in making progress?
    • How much progress has been made?

These two metrics are compared to the plan (planned cost to date and scheduled progress to date). This analysis permits the identification of problems as quickly as the analysis is conducted and the ensuing allocation/reallocation of resources to resolve the problem.

  • Leadership doesn’t have the crisp, quantitative metrics that management relies on. Since leadership is about people, supporting them, addressing situations or issues impacting their morale and wellbeing, providing educational opportunities and dealing with them in fair, supportive, and honest ways, metrics, of a necessity, are going to be subjective – surveys, HR complaint rates, employee turnover (and the reasons therefore).

So, management involves collecting “hard” data, doing the analysis and taking appropriate action. Quite frankly, dollars don’t care how they are “jerked around.” Leadership, on the other hand means working with people – with people who all are truly unique, and any data collected is most likely to be “soft.” Frequently, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to people problems. People problems need to be tailored to the individual and the problem. As a caveat, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t broad policies and procedures for employees to follow, only that non-standard situations may require non-standard solutions and those solutions need to be crafted with the unique individuals in mind.

That can take us directly to the “fair” criteria I mentioned above. I once had a Commanding Officer observe, “Fair, you want fair? Fair is everyone gets hammered the same.” The point I took from that is that the only time a leader is completely even handed is in “punishing” people. Human beings (which includes all employees and most managers and leaders) are extremely likely to perceive any deviation from standards, policies, procedures or whatever as unfairly favoring whoever is the beneficiary of that deviation. This gets to transparency and process integrity (topics I’ve posted about). If leaders are honestly transparent in their leadership decisions and openly follow (and are seen to follow) their processes, people are much more likely to understand and accept “tailored” treatment for individuals when necessary.

Management is like a process – following a reasonably well defined set of steps to achieve efficiency. Leadership is more like an interactive competition (say basketball) where leaders need to continually survey a highly dynamic environment and apply their skills and abilities (within the “rules” of the game) to adapt plans in recognition that people respond differently and the game plan needs to shift to accommodate those different responses.

I think that Mr. Musk should go back and consider his leadership development efforts rather than trying to “manage” communication.







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