A Publication of WTVP

This is a complex question with no easy answers. But perhaps one of the main reasons is rooted simply in the distinction between what managers do and what leaders do. Management is about doing things right, and leadership is about doing the right things. Management is defined as “the process of dealing with and controlling people or things.” A leader is defined as “someone who people follow.”

Scary stuff, this leadership thing. Leadership is not about control. Leadership is about inspiration—such that people willingly follow you. Management is about reigning things in. Leadership is about letting go. And that can be a vulnerable place to be.

Think of it this way: A business essentially wants to control risk and assure outcomes. It controls its products, its markets, its distribution, its manufacturing processes—and clearly those who achieve success as “managers” are those who have demonstrated a consistent track record of controlling outcomes while mitigating risks. Just look to the “chain of command”—those higher up in the organization are typically those who have risen through the ranks by minimizing the adverse impacts of all those pesky risks associated with running a business. It is an important element of business, to be sure—you cannot run a successful business without an appropriate level of controls. So in many ways, following a management approach is “safe.”

Leadership, however, is much more risky. Fundamentally, leadership is not about control. As a leader, you are certain about your vision—what needs to happen—but less sure about the outcome. A leader relies upon others to perform in the face of stress, pressure or risks. This creates a very genuine sense of fear and vulnerability for the leader. Who would want to “lead” when there is such a genuine ambiguity associated with the assurance of outcome? And yet, true leaders exist. They set the vision for their teams and establish a sense of community among the members. But they actually rely much more on faith that people will rise to great levels of achievement simply by being empowered to do the right thing in support of the desired state.

Paradoxically, management control actually stifles true empowerment. People want to feel that their role actually supports a greater vision. They want to be a part of something more noble and bigger than themselves. They don’t want to merely comply. They want to matter. For a real leader, people will put self beneath team. They will be less concerned about roles, and more concerned about performance. And importantly, the business vision is supreme—not the position of manager. In short, everyone leads. And everyone is committed to the noble purpose inspired by the leader. In my mind, this is powerful and will yield much greater results. But it is not safe. And therefore, businesses typically don’t create this type of environment.

Instead, management can be rigid—often seeking conformance and compliance with processes to achieve the desired end, whereas leadership is nimble—seeking empowerment and liberty to achieve the desired end.

Think of the business you are currently in. Are you encouraged to “have faith?” Are you encouraged to “step out and take risks” simply in support of doing the right thing? Or are you expected to color within the lines? Conform to processes as a safe means to achieve the desired outcome?

So, why do businesses groom more managers than leaders? Simply stated, businesses are overwhelmingly concerned with controls, and therefore are less concerned with leadership. The bottom line is businesses reap what they sew—management breeds managers. When businesses sew management control as the pervasive philosophy, they will reap a safe and controlling philosophy among its employees.

However, true long-term success, the kind extolled by Jim Collins in Good to Great, comes from leadership, not management. Something to think about. iBi

William D. Mayo is a founding partner of Fullsail Leadership, which focuses on servant leadership and helping leaders discover and explore the authentic leader within.