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* * *    AN ARMY OF LEADERS    * * *

Two words might have completely different meanings. However, if we see and hear them being misused over and over again, we might start using them interchangeably –causing even more misunderstandings.

The terms management and leadership are a good example.

We often hear sentences such as “The leadership team is meeting this week,” “Organization leaders are concerned about the stock price,” and “Leaders from both government agencies should come to an agreement.”

Are those sentences truly referring to leaders? Or they are referring to management positions?

Although management and leadership share some characteristics and functions, they are completely separate roles requiring different skill sets and different environments to thrive.

The traditional view of management focuses on organizational structure and processes. Therefore, managerial development has been built around managing resources and retaining control.

Over decades business schools and MBA programs have trained students for executive–, project management–, and consulting–type jobs, creating armies of process-oriented people who:

  • Look for step-by-step management charts to follow and complex checklists to apply.
  • Compare (benchmark) the organization and its products and services with competitors.
  • Collect “best practices” as the recipe for success.

In graduated programs waves of future managers are taught to believe that theory matches reality –where step-by-step charts, checklists, industry best practices and long-term plans form a magical intersection point. Business students have been sold on the idea that, with that knowledge, they can as managers “instinctively” resolve problems quickly –without even fully understanding a problem’s context and significance.

The “getting things done” mentality becomes the main driver, which certainly requires planning, organizing projects and controlling processes and people. Therefore, once “someone” high up in the organization set “the (specific) goals” –usually high-level management team, PMO/portfolio directors, etc.– managers become responsible for three aspects:

  • Dealing with comprehensive dashboards to track as much as possible.
  • Overseeing giant Gant Charts and scheduling tools to embrace the illusion of control.
  • Administrating resources –including pushing people to their limits to meet deadlines. In fact, most people in large companies are still administered instead of led, still being called resources instead of people.

Since corporate goals materialize through managerial goals, the latter arise out of operations and project needs rather than desires from customers or teams.

Is that one of the reasons why managers tend to adopt impersonal –and even passive– attitudes toward goals? Is that why they refrain from questioning policies, processes and/or metrics? Or avoid not only asking but also answering fundamental questions about purpose and value? Or refrain from challenging the status quo or setting the stage to pivot if necessary?

Editorial - Picture - Arrow painted on the wall

In any case, mangers are not encouraged to raise those issues or challenge assumptions. Their understanding is, the more deadlines we meet the better managers we are; the more goals we achieve, the more rewards we attain.

In that environment, what matters the most is the original goal –regardless of who set it, when it was set, the particular context, or the reasoning behind it.

It might not be relevant whether the goal is right or wrong, worth pursuing or not, profitable or unproductive, beneficial or detrimental to the organization. Regardless of what the nicely framed “Organizational Values Chart” says, “getting it done” is what matters –not the customer, not the teams, not the long-term vision.

This army of managers has been missing some pretty fundamental requirements for success:

  • Deep understanding of the nature of business.
  • Respect for and from customers and the people on the firing line.
  • Humility to raise their hand to ask questions.
  • Critical thinking.

The formula worked for a long time. The recipe seemed to be effective. Organizations and managers were satisfied. Until recently, when everything in the world started to change very quickly: new technologies come out every month and much more information and options are available every day –customers, employees, influencers and investors can come and go instantly, without giving any notice or warning.

“Instantly” is the key word that is changing the playing field for any organization. That is the word that makes traditional management methodologies ineffective and heavy management approaches inefficient.

It is not to say that managers are wrong. Completing tasks is certainly a key to perform effectively, but a new approach is required. One that focus on people and value delivery. One that questions assumptions and takes risks early and often. One that avoids re-work and brings innovation.

It is essential that the managerial process has options for flexibility. There is where the word “leadership” emerges and the Agile mindset comes into play.

  • Management is task-driven, while leadership is mission-driven.
  • Managers direct and micromanage, while leaders inspire and coach.
  • Management implies completing tasks, while leadership implies focusing on the overall purpose.
  • Managers control people and their work, while leaders transform and encourage people to achieve more and deliver real value.
  • Managers follow books and methodologies, while leaders experiment to innovate.
  • Managers rely on step-by-step charts, checklists and best practices, while leaders strive to develop their own methods and tailored practices.
  • Managers make plans to control risk, while leaders run experiments to adjust and pivot.

Each organization has the power to decide which is more valuable: having an army of managers or an army of leaders, having a brigade of methodology and framework-followers or a brigade of innovators.

agile-thoughts was born to support the latter.

Ricardo Abella

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