Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper made a distinction that I find helpful in teaching leadership:

"You don't manage people, you manage things. You lead people."

Deliverables are things that need to be managed. Risks are things that need to be managed. Schedules are things that need to be managed. Budgets are things that need to be managed. You can't lead a deliverable, a risk, a schedule or a budget. People are distinctly different.

You can't follow a set of defined steps to get people to follow you to the goal. This is one of the reasons that engineers have a hard time making a transition into management roles. They have always been taught that "if step A, then step B, result C will happen." This kind of logic doesn't work with people.

Another Grace Hopper quote helps us understand better:

"Humans are allergic to change."

Leading people is a process of moving them from the familiar and comfortable to the unknown. To successfully lead people, we need to make their desire to change overcome their fear of the unknown.

I'm also fond of the ideas of John Kotter from the Harvard Business School. He says that management is about making complex things more predictable. On the other hand, leadership is about making unpredictable things, such as change, more comfortable.

So, are you a manager or a leader? Do you help your people overcome their allergy to change? Do you help your people feel comfortable with the unpredictable? Or, do you treat them as things, and expect them to behave according to an "if A and B" formula? Be a leader.

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