Tag Archives: management

When to lead and when to manage

You lead people, yourself included. You manage situations.

Nobody worth their salt likes to be “managed”.  Trying to manage people, that is; using threats of punishment, promises of reward, passive aggressive comments, subtle (or not so subtle) hints, and sundry other insincere “techniques” designed to elicit a change in behavior, borders on sociopathic.  It’s disrespectful and condescending.

It will lose you the best people and the ones that put up with it will be with you for the wrong reasons, making high performance unlikely.

The people you want in your team, I call them thinking followers, are motivated by the opportunity of doing meaningful work that they enjoy, with other people they respect, in an environment that invites and fosters their creativity.

Your role as the boss is to inspire and challenge and support them.

Yes, management is required.  Processes, scheduling, logistics, supply lines, and administration all need to be well managed.  And there are “people situations” that need to be handled – interpersonal conflict, irrational behavior, emotional outbursts, even plain old mistakes.  Just remember that people are people, not things.  This post might help.

I can’t stress this enough:  people should not be managed.  Your job is to provide real leadership.

And above all, your people need to be inspired to take the lead themselves.  That will never happen if they suspect they’re being “managed”.

Boss versus Leader – not so clear cut.

Boss vs Leader

No attribution. No copyright infringement intended. Let me know if it’s your work.


Intuitively, the picture resonates.  We’ve all had the petty-tyrant boss; the person who loves the sound of their own voice and is oblivious to the resentment and de-motivation they’re engendering.

And most of us can relate to the manager who loves to roll up his sleeves and jump in on the line.

But don’t be fooled.  There’s a problem with the scenario that this image paints, especially when it comes to larger teams with significant division of labour:

You can’t fly at 40,000 feet and be on the tarmac at the same time.

If you as the organizational leader are always “hands-on”, who’s doing your job?  To belabor the cheap analogies; if the captain is always in the engine room, the ship’s going to run aground.


Don’t “lord it” over your team.  Challenge them, but don’t be a slave-driver.  Be nice, respectful, sincere, and above all, just.  But recognize that their job is not yours.  They need to be accountable for their role, just as you need to be accountable for yours.

In a pinch, get in the trenches and dig.  But if you need to do that regularly, you’re not doing your job properly; you’re just a very overpaid member of the team.

When it comes to that bromide about being “Hands On”, here’s the rule to follow:

Be hands-on as much as necessary, but as little as possible.

And over time, given that a part of your job as “boss” is to develop your reports, you should be hands-on less and less.  That will be easier if you master the art of delegation.

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Apologies for all the links, hope they weren’t distracting and that you find some of the material useful.

Questions or comments – feel free.







Stiffness is Death

Organizational leadership takes place in one of two contexts.


The organization is heading to new heights – it’s a start-up, or an existing organization that’s reached a plateau.  It needs a Visionary to take it to new and uncharted territory.


The organization is sinking in the depths; in the shit, as it were.  It needs a strong and resolute leader with experience and courage to save it.  It needs a Savior.

The expertise required may be different, and the motivation for each may vary, but each role still requires the same fundamental leadership attributes:   independence (to judge and make decisions); people skills (to engage, delegate, and motivate); expertise (to know what to do and how to do it); and passion (to care enough to make the effort and stay the course).

Some would argue that there is a third context, the organization that’s just humming along, neither growing, nor under threat.  I would counter that if an organization is not growing, it’s stagnating.  And if its stagnating, it’s dying.   It’s competitors will soon take its position.  If there are none, there soon will be.  Such an organization better be lead by a Visionary soon, or it will need a Savior soon.

Here’s the thing… it’s occurring to me now, as of course it would, that those two contexts, let’s call them “fighting to survive” and “scaling new heights” are mirrored in our own individual lives.  The vicissitudes of life are such that we are either overcoming challenges, emotional and/existential, that is, we’re working to save or preserve some value or values that we already possess, or; we’re working to create for ourselves and those we love some new values.  The in-between, the drifting along without significant challenge (time for R&R notwithstanding), is as dangerous for an individual as it is for an organization.  Don’t move and you’ll get stiff. And, as my Sifu is fond of saying, “stiffness is death”.

Where is your organization at?  And how about you?  Struggling to remain a going concern or pursuing exciting new challenges?

Remember, the status-quo is dangerous, because the Universe never stands still.  So, neither should you, and neither should the organization(s) you’re a part of.

If you think leadership is about having followers – about influencing others – you’re wrong.

I’M HAVING A continuing problem with what I call “The Cult of Leadership”.  Take five minutes to look around the web and you’ll note how almost all material on leadership focuses on having followers, on leading others, on “influence”.

This not only mis-characterizes good leadership, it’s just plain bad advice.   You cultivate the attributes of good leadership not in a quest to lead others, but because the fundamentals of good leadership are vital to success and happiness, whether an organization’s or your own.

Here’s a pretty representative sampling:

Peter Drucker (Management Guru): “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

Rubbish.  Hitler had lots of followers and look how that turned out.

John Maxwell (Leadership Guru): “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Bollocks.  Mao influenced hundreds of millions.  All dead.

Kevin Kruse (Forbes):  Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.

Better, but still wrong.  What if the goal is a bad one?  And what about all those innovators and entrepreneurs who work on great things all on their own?

So, here’s a proper definition:

Good leadership means choosing the right objective, the best way to reach it, and inspiring others to join you.

Vision first and always as the primary.

Then strategy and tactics.

No “influence”, because you can influence by force, by fraud, by intimidation, or by blackmail;  none of which makes for thinking, value-adding followers.  Others should “follow” because they’re inspired by what you’ve set-out to achieve and how you’re going about it.  Period.

Getting others to follow your lead may be important, but NEVER let it become your primary focus.  Your primary focus is, and should always be,  to achieve a Vision, to create value.  The means of achieving that Vision, which is where engaging other people comes in, are secondary (not unimportant – just not primary).

The moment you lose sight of the Vision, or it becomes blurred, and you act primarily to keep or attract followers, to lead other people, you risk taking yourself, and those who follow you, in the wrong direction.

Then there’s the fact that along with your responsibility to be accountable for your own life, you need to allow (and encourage), others to be accountable for theirs. Good leadership means thinking for yourself, developing an understanding of the human condition, (how people think, feel, and behave), constantly seeking to expand your horizons, and pursuing value for all you’re worth.

The element of leadership that entails others following is a byproduct.

Thinking people choose to engage with you in achieving your Vision because they’re inspired by the picture you paint and by the way you go about achieving it; by how you go about creating value, and because you engage with them justly.

Yes, some people enjoy the act of leading other people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless it’s the primary. Anyone motivated to lead by the desire to have followers, to have power over others, is likely going in the wrong direction. You don’t achieve a vision by looking back (at those that are following), but by keeping your eye on the goal and moving forward. You have to be driven by what’s in front, not by those that are following behind.

The focus on “leading”, rather than on achieving (and continuously refining and evolving) a vision, is perhaps the biggest cause of organizational failure.

It’s the trap new supervisors often fall into when they take on their first management role.

It’s why middle-managers can stumble when they take on a new department or division.

It’s the quicksand entrepreneurs often wade into when their venture gains momentum.

It’s the failing of many a “career CEO” who moves into an unknown field.

It’s the reason so many NGOs become navel-gazing, self-serving, resource-consuming bureaucracies with no clear, focused, and defining mission.

And it’s caused untold death and misery as militaristic despots throughout history sought political power for self-aggrandization.

Don’t worry about leading others.

Foster your independence by thinking well, work on your people skills so that you engage with others well and fairly, be proactive in expanding your knowledge and skills, and work to stay passionate about all that you undertake.

And if you don’t have a compelling vision, or the vision of the organization you work for leaves you cold, the last thing you should be focusing on is leading others. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, or can’t get behind what your employer is trying to achieve, it’s time to re-assess your life’s direction. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, flog a dead horse. I guarantee you that the pain of changing will be less than the pain of stagnation.  And don’t, EVER, lead for the sake of leading.  Lead only when you’ve got some good place to go.

Effective Personal Development requires good Personal Knowledge Management. How’s yours?

FURTHER TO POSTS on leadership development (“Why developing leaders is hard…” and “Developing Good Leaders…“), here’s a great slideshow by Steve Dale (@stephendale), on:

“… taking responsibility for personal & professional development in order to remain ‘relevant’ in a sometimes chaotic and fast-changing environment”

Beyond wanting to “remain relevant”, personal development, that is, broadening your knowledge, adding new skills, gaining mastery in old ones, and shaping your own character, are vital to success, which, ultimately, means happiness.

Developing Good Leaders – a couple comments

In response to the post from a few days ago, “Why developing leaders is hard and the two most powerful ways to go about it“, Kurt Häusler (@Kurt_Haeusler) commented:

“Both assume good leadership is already in place, nearby and available. It also encourages emulation over improvement.”.

[If you’ve not read the post already, maybe take a couple minutes to do so, just click up there ↑ and it will open in a new tab.]

Without getting bogged down in polemics, here are my thoughts on this.

Integral to being (or becoming) a good leader, is the trait of helping others to develop their own leadership skills.  We are all in (or should be in) the business of helping those around us to be their best.  You don’t need to be a titled leader to have (or to want to have) leadership skills.  Method Leadership is about the fundamental leadership skills that enhance every individual’s life, not just the performance of those with formal leadership titles.

So, inspiring those around you to improve their leadership skills by providing a positive example and by providing learning opportunities whenever you’re able does not require that you yourself are already a “good leader”, only that you want to develop your own leadership capabilities.  In fact, that very point reinforces the self-driven nature of leadership development.

As to “emulation over improvement”; they are not mutually exclusive.  If by emulation one means “monkey see, monkey do” then yes, that would be fairly pointless.  But in regard to complex human behavior, copying is one of the fundamental ways humans learn.  Setting a good example for others is absolutely vital to good leadership.  Nothing is worse than the leader (or person) who says one thing and does another.

To this day, when faced with some leadership challenge or other, I sometimes find myself asking, “what would X do?”; reaching back to the example of the few good mentors I have been lucky enough to work or be associated with.

I am so, so, grateful to have had the good example of some exceptional people.  From some I learned to think, to reason, to make better decisions;  others had a magic way with people; one taught me the humility to recognize that learning is never done, and can be found in the most unlikely of situations; and all, bar none, provided me with the example of unstinting effort – the passion to initiate, to drive on despite obstacles, and to never rest on one’s laurels.

Did I emulate these individuals.  Yes, absolutely, and proudly.

So, let me reiterate.  Developing your leadership skills comes from you, and an important aspect of leadership is inspiring others to develop themselves too.  Set a great example, and follow great examples.  Provide learning and development opportunities for others, and grasp them for yourself whenever you can.

Both of these things are vastly more powerful, (because fundamental and a priori), to any formal leadership training and/or development.  They are, in fact, foundational.

Cheers to @Kurt_Haeusler for the prompt.


Why developing leaders is hard and the two most powerful ways to go about it.

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT, which fundamentally is the improvement in an individual’s ability to take the lead and in their people skills, must start from, and be driven by, the learner.  Leadership is an individual endeavor.  Not solitary, but individual.

This is one of the reasons leadership development programs are so often a waste of time and money.  You cannot impose upon someone to develop as a leader.  The light bulb has got to want to change, as the old joke goes.

But all is not lost.  Here are two powerful ways to inspire a desire in others to develop themselves.

Provide a positive example.

Show that an active dedication to the traits of good leadership – thinking independently, dealing justly with others, constantly learning, and going at life passionately – works.  By “works”, I mean is the path to success and happiness.  Your example will work as a motivator, and will provide a kind of preview.

When a young individual with loads of potential is characterized as a “natural leader”, it’s not because they were born special; it’s because they had in early life the right kind of example, usually one or both parents, showing them what successful living looks like (a “negative example” might also create leadership, but likely comes with significant scarring).

Provide adhoc learning opportunities, not just formal.

By adhoc I mean leveraging everyday situations to encourage the taking of initiative and responsibility.  Encourage thinkingDelegate properly, teach, show, allow observation and encourage questions.  This is what mentoring is all about, and it works faster and surer than just about anything else.

Yes, you can and should offer more formal learning opportunities – courses, seminars, eLearning, core training, books, and the like – but make them voluntary, and not free.  Cheap, perhaps, but not free.  “User Pays” is a great way to separate wheat from chaff, and out-of-pocket expense is an added motivation to fully engage.  Real values need to be earned.  Contrary to popular belief, free stuff does not taste better.

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