Friday, March 28, 2008

Leaders and Managers

Today we’re talking about leaders, managers, and why a good Leader needs to be both.

Leaders deal with people and the systems (physical, logical, administrative, it doesn’t matter) those people maintain
Managers deal with systems (again, physical, logical, administrative, it doesn’t matter) and the people who maintain them

There is a lot of overlap- the boundaries are blurred and many situations call for both.

Establishing systems and motivating personnel to implement and enforce them initially requires active leadership. You have to know the mission and understand the endstate, and then develop a system to get there. Then you have to ensure your Soldiers know the mission and endstate, are involved in developing the system, and since they’re the ones who actually implement them, you have to ensure they are bought in to the mission.

You have to define roles for your subordinates, develop a chain of command (either formal or informal) and enforce both of these. Formal chains of command are great- the highest ranking is in charge, then the next, and so on. Sometimes, though, you have to weigh the rank structure against what I like to call the “aristocracy of talent.” I (as a Captain) don’t know routers as well as my Soldiers, particularly SPC Gonzalez. So when I have a router issue, I get SPC Gonzalez. There are two NCOs who outrank him, but they also understand that he is the guy for the job. They’re bought in to the mission (keeping the network up) and the endstate (95% operational readiness rate) so they will use the informal chain of command and not be pissed at me when I put SCP Gonzalez in charge of networking, despite their higher rank.

Once the system is established, you settle down into the managerial role. You’ve defined roles, you’ve established a chain of command, you’ve implemented and enforced your systems and trackers and charts and what have you, and you sit back and watch it all work. Your subordinates each manage their piece of the puzzle, and they tweak as necessary to ensure the system does what it’s designed to do: achieve the endstate.

Sometimes, however, things go drastically wrong. Then the leader jumps back in, actively directing people, making decisions, and pushing forward towards your endstate. Once the crisis has passed, though, you’re back to management.

This works very well, I have found. The problem is when you get people who are leaders but not managers, or managers but not leaders.

Leaders but not managers are kind of like seagulls- they fly in, make a lot of noise, crap all over everything, and fly back out. It looks like progress initially, but there’s no forward movement. Whatever system they implement will fall apart in short order because they’re not capable of managing.

Managers but not leaders are also bad- they can’t get anything established. They’re great at coming into an established system and keeping it functioning, but they can’t set it up and they can’t deal with crises when they inevitably crop up.

Good Leaders (note the capital) can do both. They’re good at both, and their subordinates know it. Good Leaders also foster this in their subordinates.

A gripe here: if you’re the kind of person who hoards information because you have to be indispensible to the organization, or because you’re scared to let people know what you know, then I hate you. You’re bad for business. Here’s why: what happens when you get sick? Or in my line of work, when your vehicle gets hit by an IED and you die? You should be able to leave at any time and not suffer a degrade in your area. Take care of the mission, and your evaluation takes care of itself.

And now for something completely different:

Authority vs Responsibility

Leaders can delegate authority, but not responsibility. I can put someone in charge of an area within my purview, but I have to remember that I am responsible for his/her success or failure. So when I implement a system and enforce my chain of command, whether by rank or the aristocracy of talent, I will eventually end up holding the bag for the success or failure of my team AS A WHOLE. Good Leaders will back up their subordinates’ decisions, because they’re your decisions by proxy. If you’ve done your job right, you have nothing to worry about. You can go home at night knowing that your night shift is making independent decisions that are in line with your mission and endstate. If you haven’t done your job right, you should expect angry phone calls at all hours (particularly if you work for me).

And remember: “If it’s bad, it’s me. If it’s good, it’s us. And if it’s really good, it’s you.” Praise in public, punish in private. And other little sayings.

1 comment:

La Yen said...

Also, in the private sector, if you are indispensable you will never get promoted. Which is what happened to me.