Sunday, August 01, 2010

Leadership Notes: What I Believe

Management is over. Dead. Gone. Welcome to the age of Leadership.

I don't believe in the Leader/Manager debates. It is fashionable indeed, to pour smart soundbites about the difference between the leader and the manager. Things like: Manage the process, lead the people. Or, the manager steers a team through the woods, but the leader gets atop a tree and find the way. And, most popularly, short versus the long term, tactical versus the strategic - each designed to tell us, with preciseness, at which point a manager should cross the leadership threshold.

And, then, there is this whole argument that management is nothing without leadership, and leadership needs management. Mintzberg says this, primarily. He has a point: Management without leadership will be boring, and leadership without management will be chaos. All good leaders must manage, and all good managers must be able to lead. Indeed.

But, increasingly, it is unclear what you can manage. The age of uncertainty is no longer a catchy term or a distant concept. We don't know whether we are there, and that is surely it: Only thing for certain is that certainty is dead. The whole system that we live by is shaky. The nations we crafted over last two hundred years are hanging on for dear life, but each financial crisis is progressively pushing them to the edge. The trust as embodied in paper money, or other instruments, the basis of our commercial system, is exposed to be disabused, and bail out or not, we all feel a strong urge not to trust a banker again. The traditional, solid organizations suddenly looks fluid, as they re-engineer and fire people. The business as a social organization, where sons followed their fathers and went to work, exist in period movies only. We may cling on to all the managerial lingo, but what we could have managed has taken a walk.

Such as people. Employees. Those small people who needed to defer to us to pay their bills, to keep their medical cover and to fill the mortgage. The problem is that we still get people to buy into such instruments of submission, but we are unable to provide them the answers and the security that they need. Besides, we don't even know what they can do, or should do. The only thing one knows, at whatever level, is that we need to go and figure. And, you can't push people to go and figure it out for themselves.

It is not all that bad, though. Figuring out what one needs to go can be fun. One name that goes by is creativity. Everyone needs to create now, possibilities, at least for themselves. That can be a huge force for good, a million time more productive compared to the time only a handful of people did the figuring out.

This may sound, well, Utopian. Everyone trying to figure the way out sounds like chaos. And, aren't some people smarter than others, and should it not be left to them to lead? Well, that was a myth we tried to propagate, and each new invention proved it wrong. About 500 years back, before printing, we kept knowledge under lock and key, in the backrooms of monasteries. Printing changed all that and created trouble, but we could still co-opt a few in a cosy arrangement and keep the figuring out bit under control. Now, a variety of things, Internet, but most importantly, mobile phones, and insatiable, suicidal greed, is pushing knowledge out to frontiers we did not know existed, and bringing billions of people, with all their idiosyncrasies, to party. It is scary, but it is real - everyone seems to be gatecrashing on creativity and the snobs can only go home and write treatise about how the world is going to go to dogs. It won't.

Because, there are now a million possibilities. The old way of doing things don't work anymore. The old way, as in burning up some of earth's resources, pushing some desperate souls to do some 'time' for their mortgages or health cover, and selling what we produced to some rich kid in a wasteful ride. The new way is about protecting the earth, about people doing things voluntarily and for everyone sitting around the table. That's no communist utopia; that's capitalist production mantra at around our time.

So, how you manage this? How you fire people who are not employed, time-stamp people who begged to God for an extra hour over and above 24 a day, and discipline passion? How do you set a process and time lines for work which has never been done before? You lead. In short, you define a relationship between those who volunteer to figure out and those who volunteer to follow suit on the basis of a common purpose and goodwill. The protocol you set becomes the process - the trust becomes inside out than outside in. The fear is not to be able to change the world, and the trick is to constantly evolve ourselves.

So, management is dead. Dead as a Dodo. That is an environmental message, but a practical one too. Leadership has replaced, superseded management. It is the only thing, not one of the things. So, if you don't want to lead, follow. But please don't ask for a job description.

1 comment:

Chris Helms, MBA said...

My beliefs about leadership changed after a business conference I attended today. What do you think about my blog? Please read this and pass it on to your readers. Thank you. Chris

http://chelmsmba.blogspot.com/2010/08/whats-wrong-with-generations-x-and-y.html

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