Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Hindsight: There Are No Leaders, Only Good Managers

"Your worth is in their eyes."
- Author unknown

For many managers and senior executives, the two most challenging ideas contained in my paper came from the sections "Moving from manageability to management" and "There are no leaders, only good managers". These two sections above all challenged widely accepted beliefs about management in general, but especially in the public service. Consequently, more than a few made a point of telling me that they disagreed with many of my ideas.

On one hand, this form of denial from managers and senior executive is to be expected, because some of the ideas question their existence as managers as well as their success in the "system". For that reason, it is probably easier for them to state they disagree with many of my ideas than look into a mirror and rethink their most fundamental beliefs about management.

On the other hand, I am not (currently) a manager and I definitely do not have the perspective of senior executives in the public service. Therefore, I don't hold the truth and I have to acknowledge that if I had their perspective, my own ideas could very well be somewhat different than what they are now.

Regardless, my perspective is probably shared by a good portion of the 80% of public servants who are not managers and the 95% who are not senior executives. In that sense, even if my thinking is wrong, I know a few hundred thousands other public servants are likely to be wrong with me!

The question then is not whether we are right or wrong, but rather:
  • Is it a valid perspective?
  • Where are managers and executives failing to explain their perspective to employees? How could employees communicate their perspective differently so they can be heard by management?
  • How can we educate people to see things differently?
For these reasons, I will leave it up to people - but especially managers and senior executives - to figure out for themselves what administration, management and leadership mean to them. I will however recommend three books which should be mandatory for all senior executives:
(You can also find out more about my favourite management books here.)

As a side note, I recently came across this blog posting by Dave Crisp who shared his thoughts on "followership" and offered a solution to something that had been bugging me for quite a while:

"Personally I prefer to use the term “supporters” rather than “followers.” The days of blind following are grinding slowly, but surely to an end. People think for themselves and are finding ways to act on those thoughts more than in the past. “Supporters” implies a leaders needs to nurture support, that it can be withdrawn at any sign of inconsistency or personal agenda and that the entire process is very much a two-way street. Leaders need supporters and supporters need leaders."

Enjoy your reading!


Jim Stroup said...

It is most encouraging to see the sort of thinking presented in this post gaining ground with such well-spoken support as you offer. Your point that "There are no leaders, only good managers" is a vital key to winding down the self-absorbed and destructive focus of so many executives on themselves, rather than on their responsibilities, which they use the modern leadership dogma to foist off on their "followers." Your closing citation of your reference's discomfort with that latter term, preferring "supporter" in its place, is also an important step forward.

An excellent presentation - thanks!

Dave said...

Thanks for linking to my post, Etienne. I think your points are right on. I read the original and my thought is the distinctions we make between administrator, manager or leader are often based, as you say, on whom we respect more. But there is a real difference in the nuances. Administrators "just" administer the policy "as is" while managers have a broader role to look at whether it is working, what would make it work better, etc. Leader has begun to mean those who push toward results that aren't clearly available (while managers limit themselves to what is known to be possible).

I believe more and more of us are becoming leaders. That is we have ideas for improvements that we aren't certain would work; we have no proof, but strong beliefs that they will. We want to move people into that unknown territory. Effective leaders can make a case and pull people along. But it means sticking one's neck out to do so and, as this post suggests, many of us would rather read along with those who are willing to risk commenting rather than venture into print ourselves. We may be knowledgeable, good managers of existing systems, but pushing toward unknown, possible improvements is risky - as one person commented on your earlier post. We think carefully before doing so out of fears we may not be able to define, sometimes just the fear of being attacked by opposing comments. Slowly, however, I think blogs like yours are encouraging people to speak up. As time goes on I think we'll see more comments flowing more easily.