Sunday, April 29, 2012

Management and Leadership

I had some interesting insights over the last week. I took a Master’s level class called “IT Program Leadership”. I’ve studied leadership since my Civil Air Patrol days in high school. Most of the managers I’ve worked for apparently haven’t read the same books I have.

The class was really interesting. Being a Master’s Degree level and academic, it dealt with leadership from an objective and academic perspective. We used classic articles from Harvard Business Review, and a couple case studies from Harvard Business School (what I wouldn’t give for a chance to go through their MBA program…).

A lot of leadership material seems to contain little more than anecdotes followed by an attempt to connect them into repeatable processes. I find this often leads to a “Cargo Cult” mentality. “Well, Steve Jobs bitched people out at 3 in the morning, and look what he accomplished!” I’ve heard a lot of startups are dominated by a cargo cult attempt to replicate Steve Jobs. The material we dealt with in the class was very academic and objective.

An interesting discussion occurred on the difference between management and leadership. I’ve read some material saying they’re different; you’re either a manager or a leader. In my experience, that’s bull. I see them (and the class reinforced this) as tools. You might have to manage at one point and lead at another. The same person can do both. The more tools you have, the more jobs you can take on.

I came up with an interesting comparison. When I need to go somewhere, leadership is planning the route and the departure time. Leadership is getting everybody in the car. Management is controlling the car’s speed and direction, shifting gears, monitoring fuel levels and idiot lights, etc. If there is an obstruction in the route, leadership is what decides whether to sit in traffic or attempt a detour.

I saw some of this over the weekend. I had a buttload of yard work to do on Saturday. My wife took Joshua to a friend’s house for playtime. Caleb stayed with me. Caleb loves to help. Even when he was two, if we had groceries to carry in, and I didn’t have something he could carry, it hurt his feelings. Now at 6, he’s able to help a little more.

We have a side of our house that we almost never go to. There are no doors and little reason to go there except to cut the grass. But on the property line, our neighbor has a series of trees. Every couple years, I have to go and cut the branches back or they’ll rip my siding off. Since my lawnmower chose this weekend to die, I decided to work on those trees. I cut off branches and Caleb helped me throw them over the fence. I also had to saw a tree off as close to the ground as I could get. It grew up too far to dig up, so I had to cut it.

When I finished, I helped him throw the branches over the fence. Then I asked Caleb if he could go into the back yard, pick up the branches, and move then all to the pile of wood we use for our fire pit.

Then I went back to weeding in the front yard.

Caleb actually completed the task, unsupervised, by himself. I was proud of him. By the way, he’s 6. I don’t even think I ever finished a task by myself when I was 6.

In reflection of the class, I see that as a minor example of the differences in tools. I had a vision of what I wanted to get done. I had an impediment- my lawnmower died. I adjusted. I broke up my tasks, and managed my resources. I found something my resource (a 6 year old) could do and gave him the responsibility. And the work got done.

In conclusion, leadership and management are both tools. You should be able to use both of them in the appropriate situations. You can lead and manage at the same time, and the better you learn to do both, the more jobs you can handle.

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