Monday, March 18, 2013

Leadership and Management

Leadership and management; committees and teams.

Working on some new material for the Conflict Communications course and dealing with other projects as well.

There are two links that will help with the background on this post:
(Turns out I've never actually done a post on the ICS model and goals-backward versus resources-forward thinking.  Maybe it was in "Meditations on Violence?"  Memory is the second thing to go.)

I have a saying that if you don't know the difference between leadership and management, you're a manager.  But knowing the difference is not the same as putting it in words or being able to explain the difference.  Almost every book on leadership I've ever read was about management and written by a manager who thought he was a leader.  The notable exception is Paul Howe's "Leadership and Training for the Fight."

So now I'm trying to put it into words and I think I have it, but it has an unexpected twist.

Managers are systems builders.  They desire to create a system, a network of facilities and policies that remove the human element.  They want to believe (and insist) that all people are equal, that all officers (or workers or deputies or soldiers) are the same and should be treated the same.  They believe that if they can ever make a perfect system, the system will run smoothly and efficiently regardless of the actual humans that are doing the work.

And this is the first twist.  The managers that I know are far more likely to talk about 'respect' and 'diversity' than the leaders I know, but the systems they create are inhuman machines.  And so they 'respect diversity' while trying to reduce all people to numbers.  To interchangeable cogs in this inhuman machine.  All the while insisting they are only trying to be 'fair.'

My personal belief is that this isn't so much about the system or about the goal.  I don't think it's that teleological.  I think it is about trying to minimize personal conflict.  You're a manager, you don't want to fire people.  So much easier to just be the messenger who gives them the message that under current policy they can no longer be employed.  The policy, not the boss, did the firing.  There's still conflict, but you can pretend it's not personal.  As long as you follow the policies, you have no responsibility for the outcomes.  Because there are no decisions.

Another way to put it is that managers try to create a flow chart without personal decisions affecting the outcome.  Remove the personal element and the product will always be perfect.

It works okay.  It must, since management is rampant and leadership is rare.  But there are severe weaknesses to this kind of system.  The first that comes to mind is the inflexibility.  Reliance on emergency protocols can be really, really good-- as long as you get an emergency you predicted and wrote a protocol for.  Inflexibility also hurts you when you have a time-sensitive opportunity.

The second obvious problem is that there are people who excel at manipulating systems.  No matter how well designed or well intentioned, bad people do bad things with good systems.

Third problem is that sooner or later, the system becomes the purpose.  Hospitals exist to stay in business rather than to treat people.  Governments promote and protect the parties rather than the citizens.  How you do something (whether you followed the procedure) becomes more important than what you did-- and so we have retail workers fired for defending themselves and paramedics in the UK who must go into more detail in their reports about the safety equipment they wore than on how the victim was extracted from the crashed vehicle.

There are more, but don't get too comfortable and self-righteous.  Management is more pervasive because it is more popular.  Most people would rather be managed than led.  Because being led demands more. It demands personal responsibility.
"I followed the policy.  It's not my fault." Is adequate in a system.  In the kind of place where leadership is allowed the answer is:
"Policy is no excuse.  You knew this would happen."

The only protection under leadership is your personal skill, and very few people are comfortable with that.  Management may create a soulless machine, but a lot of people seem comfortable there.

Leadership is about people, not policy.  It is about telling people to their faces when they have screwed up and also when they have done well.  Leadership is not always superior to management.  It is much easier to be a bad leader than a bad manager and it has more effect.  It is also easier to be a good leader than a good manager, and that has more effect to.

And that may be part of the difference.  Managerial systems are designed so that the cogs are interchangeable.  Including the managers.  So a manager, whether good or bad, will cause little change.  The situation is perfect for those who fear doing something wrong more than they value doing something well.

Maybe it's not such a twist.  I was originally puzzled that so many I talk to think of leaders as hard chargers with little regard for others, when leadership is a people skill.  Conversely, the words coming out of every HR department I've worked with have all been about valuing the individual, and fairness... and they are responsible for creating and maintaining an inhuman system.

But looked at from the twin perspectives of trying to avoid personal responsibility and avoid personal conflict it does make sense.  Thus the people who use the word 'diversity' as a mantra want everyone to look different but think the same.  It limits conflict.  And I wanted the widest variety of backgrounds on my teams as possible, because people who thought different would come at problems from different angles.  More conflict, but we solved some issues.

That's enough typing for now.  Teams and committees will have to come later.


Maija said...

Wow. Yes.
Never thought of the 'machine' principle before. That's totally inspired.

Jim said...

Makes a lot of sense. The managers build a machine to take all the human factors out of it... but in reality, they need leaders within the machine to make it work. Which leads to the next question, in my mind... How do you get the right people into the right positions? A good manager will be a crappy leader, but often early supervisory positions really require leadership. Until the level where the machine needs managers to run it... Of course, the machine is also inherently built to perpetuate itself, so often it stymies leaders and advances managers. Especially since management results are lots more measurable and observable. Leadership gets the job done right -- but management produces the tally marks that show that it got done.

OK -- I think I'm spinning around a bit here... There's something there, not sure if I hit it.

Neil Bednar said...

Excellent post.

Unknown said...

Ahahaha. You silly managers. Wait, that describes me?!

Mac said...

But, management is a vital part of the triangle of organization - personnel, resources and purpose. Managers maintain the structure, define the strategies and provide the resources for the leaders who then make the plans, train the troops and carry out the missions. There are two obvious problems with this 'separation of powers': system resist maintenance and the roles of managers and leaders are blurred, not only organizationally but personally.

Managers resist input from leaders about needed organizational change because it is their nature and the nature of organizations to be resist change and maintain existing boundaries. Leaders resist being managed because "no plan survives contact with the enemy."

It is a condom, no?

Josh Kruschke said...

Managment and Leadership are not mutualy exclusive skill sets. You need both to accomplish anything. A manager that can't inspirer those under them to acomplish a goal gets little done. And a Leader with out a plan wastes a lot of time.

The two best resources I've found are the One minute manager series and the Fifth Descipline. Both set up a system you can lead from, but come at the problem from two different points of view.

Anonymous said...

Ever read J.B. Priestley's "The Grey Ones"?

Managerial class = evil changelings serving the cause of diminishing the soul of mankind.


Anonymous said...

Wow, just came across eichmann and amtssprache.

"I followed the policy. It's not my fault."


Rob Lyman said...

There was an incident in CA a while back where a suicidal stood in neck deep water while police and fire looked on, until eventually hypothermia got him.

I'm not sure exactly how I would have handled the situation--people suggesting sending a couple of cops into neck-deep water to "overpower" him have apparently never been in neck-deep water themselves--but the press release from the FD was classic.

They said they couldn't save him because their P&P didn't allow it. No, really. Apparently somebody had written out a policy on neck-deep water. Or, more likely, they couldn't think of anything else to say.

Unknown said...

I had an opportunity to watch managers for some time. In my opinion they tend to look around them as if every situation is opportunity to manage. Professional deformation, probably. Trying to treat people that way beyond their professional field backfires a great deal.

Not to mention I will follow a real leader but never a manager. I don't like people who try to treat me as an object and don't get along with them. :)

Alex ken said...

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Leadership in the UK