The Complex Role of Leader-Manager


As I begin outlining the new Management MBA course I’ll be teaching this summer on Leadership, I realized that the reason there are so many different definitions is that there are many facets to this complex position, and each definition is focusing on a different perspective.

For instance, one approach is to distinguish leaders from managers.  “Leaders have people follow them while managers have people who work for them.” In other words, the leader is focused on vision (how the world changes because of us) and the relationships between people to achieve it. The manager is focused on executing the tasks involved in achieving the mission, the activities we actually achieve.  Each makes appropriate strategic decisions; the leader choosing between visionary options and the manager choosing between different ways of executing the plan. A successful business person needs to be both a strong leader and manager to get their team on board to follow them towards their vision of success and obtain the resources (people, capital, etc.) and engage in the business activities.

A successful leader therefore is someone who  “earns the enthusiastic loyalty and commitment of followers and molds them into a high performance team”. (Tom DeCotiis) He/she inspires people (through words and role-modelled actions) to align their own performance with the organization’s overall strategy (i.e., vision, mission and goals). This involves, painting a compelling vision of the team’s future, pointing the way to successful accomplishment of the vision.  Ultimately, it’s getting someone to do things they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve. (Tom Landy)

On the other hand, a successful manager, is focused on optimal execution: recruiting, developing and growing talented team members; obtaining and using resources to most efficiently and effectively achieve the work necessary to give the stakeholders (i.e., employees, customers and investors achievement of its mission.

The leader-manager has to balance the different realms in order to be successful. Where are we going? What’s the best way to get there? What are the implications of each strategic choice? (G. A. Lafley.) As a CEO coach, I know it’s important to address both realms in terms of time allocation, expertise, and training (of self and other team members) to advance their own abilities as leader-managers. My challenge, as a teacher is to enable students to see the differences, and cultivate the perspectives and skills needed to see how they will fulfill these roles as they grow professionally.

What are your biggest challenges?? Share with us.

Paint the Vision

As I prepare for the MBA class on leadership I’ll be teaching this summer, I was thinking about all of critical components. Tom Landy, a great football coach, once said that Leadership is getting someone to do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.”  The most important element is vision – to inspire people to do what you want them to do.

Unfortunately, many leaders assume people know and are committed to the vision, so instead of focusing on it, they give it short shift and focus on the management issues concerning activities. When the stakes are high, that’s a mistake.

One of the best descriptions of vision was offered last century by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

All too often we get lost in the management details and forget that it’s the vision that inspires people to take on the hardships that might be required to achieve the goal. Building a ship takes a lot of work, and can at time be quite draining, in terms of the workload, the doubts that might arise, etc. – as is true for many creative endeavors. Think of Noah’s very long-term commitment to build his ark!  Yet, to get people to make the commitment to prevent hunger, end cancer, or create a transformative new venture, it’s the commitment to the vision of how the world will look afterwards that provides fuel to overcome the challenges.  Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley from Pepsi  to Apple Computers by asking whether he wanted to be the best at selling soda (i.e., brown sugar water) or “make a dent in the universe”.

So, when you recruit people to your new venture, be sure to paint a powerful vision. Share with us your company’s vision statement to inspire other leaders.

Responsible Empowerment


There’s a right way and a wrong way to do something. All too often people complain because things aren’t working as they should, and by investigating exactly what is happening, the answer turns out that the “right” goal is being pursued, but the actions people are taking are faulty.  It’s analogous to leadership vs. management: the former makes sure you’re going in the right direction; the latter makes sure you’re doing it correctly. Delegation isn’t enough; management must be sure that workers are equipped (responsibly empowered) to execute as desired in order for people to achieve the goals set by the leaders.

Human Resources often is committed to talent management: hiring the right people, engaging, training and empowering people to take on those responsibilities which will lead to goal achievement – for the individual, team and company. Yet, all too often employees and freelancers fail to deliver on the hiring promise, leading managers to wonder why the people they supervise “isn’t the person they hired.”  (Barry Deutsch).

“Responsible empowerment” requires more than just issuing a job description, telling the person to take charge, and then reviewing in a global annual review. It means making sure the worker is properly empowered to do the job correctly through ongoing reviews at dyadic accountability and improvement meetings.

  • Providing a detailed description of a person’s job responsibilities and the standards by which performance will be evaluated.
  • Reviewing with new employees as often as necessary what challenges they’re having in fulfilling their jobs, enabling the person to adjust behaviors to “get it right”, and providing ongoing feedback including steps for improvement. (For instance, during the first month, each employee and supervisor might meet weekly, then monthly, quarterly, semi-annually and eventually annually. Whenever the person has a changed job description, the cycle begins again in relation to the new activities. (See eval2win.com.)

Without ongoing accountability for mastering one’s job responsibilities, supposed empowerment is likely to fail. For the supervisor, responsible empowerment includes addressing a range of leadership and management issues. Does the employee have the skills and tools and motivation to do the job well? If not, enable him/her. For long-term employees, just because he/she did the job originally hired for well, doesn’t mean he/she will be competent with new responsibilities (e.g., the Peter Principle). Are there other members in the team that are making it difficult to do the job? If so, address these issues with those members, after getting input from others involved to determine the facts.  (Vistage CEOs often share that they hire too fast, fire too slow and almost always discover that other were grateful that the person was finally let go!)

In sum, be a leader who builds a great team with effective management systems. As a manager, use responsible empowerment to ensure that each worker know exactly what he/she should be doing, how it contributes to the strategic direction of the company, and ongoing, job discussions, performance monitoring, with suggestions for continuous improvement.

How are you ensuring that you use responsible empowerment – and not just delegation?  Share your experiences.

The Courage of Leaders: Encourage It

Thinking about Creativity and Innovation recently, made me wonder about the courage that it takes for these leaders to breaking new ground. Clearly it is one of the most important attributes of leadership.

Social psychology focuses our attention on how institutions socialize people to follow group norms (e.g., socialization of citizens to be responsive jurors; initiating people who want to join fraternities (i.e., hazing), etc.) Countless conformity studies which show that the majority of people go along with what they think is the norm (e.g. Solomon Asch, Muzafer and Carolyn Sherif, Stanley Milgram, Phillip Zimbardo). Non-conformists must believe strongly in their ideas in order to deviate; if there are supporters of the deviant idea, even just one, it makes it easier. Thus, leaders demonstrate courage when they aren’t identifying with their membership group, but with an external reference group which supports the ideas.

Leaders for whom change is an important value, and who want to institutionalize innovative processes, must overcome these forces and identify with other leaders who focus on change. Alan Downs refers to the Fearless Executive as one who finds “the courage to trust your talents and be the leader you are meant to be” It isn’t the absence of fear that marks courage, it’s the silencing of the fears by feeling confident, powerful, decisive and empowering.

And most important, by demonstrating the courage to break from the norms (e.g., this is how it’s always been done), each of us can inspire other potential and existing leaders to be more courageous and make changes. Leaders can do this in many ways, by being a role within their firms for up-and-coming leaders; as advisors and board members, they set the standards and serve as a role model, and by sharing stories of how the courage of other leaders led to breakthroughs other leaders (e.g., Steve Jobs),

So, let’s inspire one another. Share with us the story of how a leader’s courage made a difference and/or how he helped inspire others to also be courageous.

How the internet changes relationships?

First, welcome to the new year!. May it be filled with good health, happiness, and the realization of your dreams.

Second, I’ve been planning on starting a blog for quite some time, to share with you the many things I discuss with colleagues, clients, writers/editors, students, association and corporate audiences, interns, etc., and there’s no better time than the start of a new year. So, here goes. I look forward to many insightful conversations!

Someone recently asked me, “How has the Internet changed relationships?” We brainstormed on the many ways the Internet is changing our lives and how we communicate with one another, and considered what future implications and directions might be. As with all technologies, it’s not all good or bad; the issue is how do we harness the trends to improve our lives.
Thus, the issue is; What’s changing from a psychological, social and business perspective?

Here are a few trends I’ve noticed.
1. We’re always connected. On the positive side, it’s now possible to stay in touch with people with whom you want to be connected. You can monitor and communicate with aging parents and children. It’s easier now to reach out and converse with a friend who may live half-way around the world as well as your local group of friends. Portable devices allow is to access news, opinions, advertisements, music, op-eds etc., anywhere and anytime. On the negative side, we’re losing some of the quiet time or “slack” in our routine; our sphere of “personal privacy” is shrinking as our purchases, responses, comments reveal aspects of our lives.
2. Our access to information has skyrocketed. We can access facts, statistics, definitions, photos, movies, opinions (blogs),news, lesson-plans, company descriptions, resumes, medical information, etc., within seconds. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.
3. Quality of care, such as health care, is increasing exponentially with increased access of medical records, second opinions and long-distance medical advice, monitoring of vital signs, and new methods of cost-controls.
4. People are relating directly with institutions, cutting out the middle “middle-men”. For instance, organizational control of information is giving way to social media’s empowerment of individuals for civic journalism (blogs), people’s discontent and resistance to governments (Twitter and Facebook) and whistle-blowing. People are taking on greater responsibilities for their lives as they interact directly through on-line banking, investing and purchasing.

Which of these issues are most relevant to you? How the internet is changing your relationships and others? As the internet’s role in our lives continues to increase, what other transformations should we expect?

Someone once said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. So, let’s get busy!


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