Tapping Into The Unpredictable Power of Leadership

Too many organizations tend to use the terms management and leadership interchangeably.  They refer to the leadership team or the management team as if they are the same thing.  Organization recognize the need to develop talent, so they create leadership development programs, but then they are disappointed when participants are unfit to lead.  Warren Bennis eloquently said that “Managers do things right, while leaders do the right things”.  Having met Warren Bennis several years ago, I have always looked up to him as a thought leader and someone who effectively distinguishes between leadership and management.

LeaderSurf classroom session

I have come to define leadership and management very differently.  Management is about the predictable and consistent achievement of results.  If I want a task completed in the same way across an entire organization, I would say I want it managed.  Leadership is something quite different.  Leadership is about the achievement of unpredictable results.  Leadership is a singular approach that has a pioneering element to it.  No two people can lead in the same way because no two people are identical.  Each of us has the power to be a leader because what makes us so unique is the fact that there is only one of each of us on this planet.  Teaching business executives to lead is a very different task than teaching business executives to manage.  Management training program teach which I see as the act of transferring knowledge from one person to another.  Leadership development programs do not teach, they enlighten, empower and build self-awareness.  Leadership development programs are facilitated not taught.  In a leadership development program, the goals must be different for each participant.  Leadership is about individuality and a well-built leadership development program must focus on tapping into each participants individuality.  Building emotional intelligence, tapping into vulnerabilities and addressing our internal battles with fear and acceptance are critical to leadership development.

Managers Deliver Predictable Results.png

Teaching people to manage is very important and there are proven approaches that can be measured because the outcomes are meant to be predictable.  Management success is quantifiable.  Leadership development on the other hand is not a science, it is an art.  The outcomes are unpredictable and the success if qualitative.  For years I/O psychologists and behavior scientists have tried to come up with a formula to measure leadership development and the ROI of a program.  It is impossible in my opinion, because leadership is an art and not a science.  What works for one leader would not work for another.  My strongest belief is that leadership is about individuality. 

“By trying to study and emulate the styles of other leaders, you reject the power you have to be the best leader you can  be.  You must be the leader who you were meant to be. “

Therefore a leadership development program cannot provide predictable and uniform results.  It must be tailored to each participant and produce a varied outcome. This is a difficult concept for many organizations to grasp because organizations especially at scale thrive on predictability.

Organizations look to manage risks and manage disruption.  They are defensive plays set in motion to mitigate downsides.  Startups and growth organizations take a very different view.  They are being led, not managed and the founders more often than not began with a belief that they could do something better or differently.  Rather than managing risk and disruption, they look to lead risk and disruption.  They ask “why not” and challenge the status quo.  Have you ever heard of a company with a risk taking department or a risk leadership function?  Maybe they exist and are hidden behind the innovation officer title. 

Loyiso Sunset Reflection

The past two decades have seen tremendous innovation and most of it has been led by new entrants versus the incumbents.  Organizations looking to grow and to innovate must embrace the concept that leadership is about the unpredictable.   There is a need in every organization for both management and leadership.  My hope is that more organizations will learn to distinguish between the two terms and to stop using them interchangeably.  It is highly likely that there are individuals who can be great managers and poor leaders while others who can be great leaders and poor managers.  Start by distinguishing between the two roles and then begin to determine what is necessary in your organization.

At Groove Management and LeaderSurf we don’t teach managers, we develop leaders.