Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On Leadership, Management and Vision

Sometimes ideas pop into your head and pop out in an instance.  Sometimes they linger for a while and fade.  Sometimes, you'll be struck by a thought and you won't be able to shake it.  It may find from your primary thoughts, but it will never completely recede.  It will appear, suddenly, every now and then to shed light on a particular topic or situation.

I have found myself, recently, regularly revisiting the idea of leadership, in all its forms.  I have begun thinking more and more about the divisions of leadership, and the various roles that can be a fit for each individual.  I have thought more and more about the distinction between leaders, managers and visionaries.  It seems to me that too few people in the realm of business take appropriate care to distinguish between the three.

I have written about leadership before, and I will, likely, write about it again.  I have admiration for strong leaders, and I am confident that when I have been put in a leadership position, I have served capably.  Nonetheless, I think this quality can become overblown... or at least conflated with other qualities, and sought out in a position that does not, necessarily, require it.

At this point, I am going to eschew any definitions of leadership.  Others have already done that, both conventionality and otherwise, and I have no eagerness to follow that path.  I will note that leadership is more than just being good at your job.  It's more than just knowing what has to be done.  The most important part of leading others would seem to be, at least to me, the others.  I imagine a leader is not properly judged by the trail he blazes, but by those who are able to follow that trail.

It also seems to me that management and leadership are often conflated; a good manager will be a good leader and vice versa.  So, someone in your employ who has shown quality leadership of a team will be the natural choice to take on a managerial role.  Sadly (considering I have seen this decision made numerous times), there is not a direct correlation between managerial prowess and leadership.  Managers will be called upon to execute a host of tasks that have little or nothing to do with leadership.  They must set targets, balance priorities, oversee progress and allocate resources.  None of this, necessarily, requires a strong leader.  I don't mean to suggest that managers are merely caretakers, but, sometimes, that is what they are called to be.

Visionaries are a completely different beast.  To have the foresight - the prescience - to discern a path for a company, or for a team, is a special gift.  Especially when that path is murky and success is but an indiscernible speck on the horizon, the ability to set out a successful vision is a rare skill.  In and of itself, this requires no ability to lead and no ability to manage.

So, what's the point of this long, rambling post?  Well, I have no specific prescriptions for identifying each skill, nor do I have a perfect method for determining which is most important for a particular role (as it is rarely a choose-one-and-only-one scenario).

My only real advice is that, as with all human resource decisions and talent evaluation, it is important to assess the skills your team members actually have, not those you wish or assume they have.  You will do them no favours by putting them in positions for which they are ill-suited.  And you will do yourself no favours by not maximizing the rewards from the particular talents they do have.

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