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From the ED: WHAT and HOW: Equal Partners on the Path to Success

My friend Tony Ludlow (Sgt. Tony’s Fitness Boot Camp) often poses interesting questions to his Facebook community, and many of the questions are about leadership. (A conversation about leadership is actually how Tony and I were first introduced.) Recently, Tony asked for comments about the difference between leadership and management, which became a related discussion about leaders and managers.

Many of the comments were what I expected, especially in the enduring – if unfortunate – age of the “visionary leader,” where management is often spoofed and ridiculed on sitcom TV. The general theme of the responses was that leaders are big-picture thinkers, while managers are just limited-view rule followers. Leaders inspire; managers dictate. Leadership is innate; management is a job title. And so on.

One comment, though, caught my attention. It described an experience with an organization that worked through teams, as most organizations do, in which every team had both a leader and a manager – also not uncommon. The difference was that in the culture of this particular organization, it was made clear that the leader and the manager had equal standing in the group. The leader was responsible for vision and direction; the manager was responsible for logistics and staying on track. Neither was superior to the other.

In other words, the leader was responsible for “what,” and the manager was responsible for “how.” And the two were recognized for being equally important. Being part of this team changed the writer’s perspective from thinking, as is easy to do, that leaders were superior to managers.

The wisdom in this approach is immense. It’s one thing to have a picture of a rainbow and pot of gold; it’s another to have the roadmap that leads to the treasure, and a schedule so everyone on the team knows where to be and when.

Without the WHAT, the HOW is meaningless. But the reverse is just as true, because without the HOW, the WHAT is simply an empty promise. (I’m reminded of the old UPS “Consultants” commercial: “Sir, we just tell you what to do; we don’t actually DO anything.”)

In my experience, there are some people with evenly distributed talents in leadership and management who can flex in different ways, depending on the situation. But I don’t know anyone who can apply both abilities in equal measure at the same time.

Working together, as peer partners, leaders and managers can guide a team to great success. Both are in positions of leadership, and both are responsible for managing the process. One draws on strengths related to vision; the other draws on strengths of implementation. Like parents in a family, the leader and the manager must represent a united front and give one another equal respect both publicly and privately. They must celebrate accomplishments as shared accomplishments and accept joint responsibility for any failures.

Together, leadership and management can pave the path to success. Together, the two can accomplish anything, a sum many times greater than its parts. But each without the other will never accomplish what could otherwise be.

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