>Fire In The Belly

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Recently I read a classic article in Harvard Business Review (March-April 1992) called “Managers and Leaders,” by Abraham Zaleznik, in which he differentiates between these two frequently confused types of people.

Some highlights:

Leaders

Managers

Personality

Shape the goals

Solve the problems

Decision-making

Open up new options

“Limit choices” to execute

Relationships

Emotion-driven

Process-oriented

Risks

Prudent risk-takers

Conservative risk-avoidance

Sense of self

Strong and separate

Based on the organization

In my experience, Zaleznik was correct in observing that leaders and managers are very different. In particular, I have seen the following.

· Discipline: Leadership is more of an art, and management is more of a science.

· Orientation: Leaders focus on “the what,” (i.e. effectiveness) and managers on “the how” (i.e. efficiency).

· Aptitude: Leaders are visionaries and motivators, and managers are skilled at execution and organization.

· Ambitions: Leaders seek to be transformational catalysts for change, and managers (as Zaleznik points out) seek perpetuation of the institution.

Given that leaders and managers are inherently dissimilar, advancement from management to leadership is not an absolute, nor is it necessarily a good thing. However, many managers aspire to be leaders, and with training, coaching, and mentoring, some can make this leap. Those who can make their mark as leaders are incredibly valuable to organizations because they know how to transform, shape, and illuminate the way forward. Of course, the role that managers play is incredibly valuable as well (probably undervalued), but nevertheless, they support and execute on the vision of the leader and as such a leader commands a premium.

What I think we can take away from Zaleznik’s work, then, is that a leader should never be thought of as just a manager “on steroids.” Instead, leaders and managers are distinct, and the synergy between them is healthy, as they each fulfill a different set of needs. In this vein, when organizations seek to recruit from within the ranks for leadership positions, it would be wise for them to look at candidates more discriminatingly than just looking at their managerial experience. (In fact, counter to the conventional wisdom, the best leader may never have been a manager at all, or may have been a mediocre or even a horrible one!) We cannot just expect that good managers will necessarily make good leaders (although to some extent success may breed success), but must look for what fundamentally makes a leader and ensure that we are getting what is needed and unique.

So what can a person do if they want to be a leader? In my view, it starts with believing in yourself, then genuinely wanting to achieve a leadership position, and after that being willing to do what it takes to get there. Baseline efforts include advancing your education, hard work, building relationships and credibility, and so forth, but this is only part of the equation.

The truth of the matter is, you can go to an Ivy League school and leadership boot camp for twenty years, but if you don’t have passion, determination, and a sense of mission or cause that comes from deep inside, then you are not yet a leader. These things cannot be taught or handed over to a person like a baton in a relay race. Rather, they are fundamental to who you are as a person, what drives you, and what you have to give to others and to the organization.

Regardless of what role we play, each of us has a unique gift to share with the world. We need only to find the courage to look inside, discover what it is, value its inherent worth (no matter what the dollar value placed on it), and pursue it.

>Building High Performance Teams

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At work, there is almost no greater feeling than being part of a high-performing team, and no worse than being part of a dysfunctional one.

Teams are not, by definition, destined to succeed. In fact more often then not, they will fail unless they have the right mix of people, purpose, process, commitment, training, and of course, leadership—along with the time for it all to jell.

I remember being on a team in one special law enforcement agency that had the “right mix.” The project was both very successful and was written up as a case study, and everything in the project was really fulfilling personally and professionally: from gathering around the whiteboard for creative strategy sessions to the execution of each phase of the project. Now, that is not to say that there were not challenges on the project and on the team—there always are—or you are probably just dreaming rather than really in the office working. But the overall, in the experience, the health of the team was conducive to doing some really cool stuff. When the team is healthy and the project successful, you feel good about getting up in the morning and going to work—an almost priceless experience.

Unfortunately, this team experience was probably more the exception than the rule—as many teams are dysfunctional for one or more reasons. In fact, at the positive team experience that I was described above, my boss used to say, “the stars are all aligned for us.”

The challenge of putting together high-performance teams is described in Harvard Business Review, May 2009, in an article, “Why Teams Don’t Work,” by Diane Coutu.

She states: “Research consistently shows that teams underperform their potential.”

But Coutu explains that this phenomenon of underperformance by teams can be overcome, by following “five basic conditions” as described in “Leading Teams” by J. Richard Hackman (the descriptions of these are my thoughts):

“Teams must be real”—you need the right mix of people: who’s in and who’s out.

“Compelling direction”—teams need a clear purpose: “what they’re supposed to be doing” and is it meaningful.

“Enabling structures”—teams need process: how are things going to get done and by whom.

“Supportive organization”—teams need the commitment of the organization and its leadership: who is championing and sponsoring the team.

“Expert coaching”—you need training: how teams are supposed to behave and produce.

While leadership is not called out specifically, to me it is the “secret sauce” or the glue that holds all the other team enablers together. The skilled leader knows who to put on the team, how to motivate its members to want to succeed, how to structure the group to be productive and effective, how to build and maintain commitment, and how to coach, counsel, mentor, and ensure adequate training and tools for the team members.

One other critical element that Coutu spells out is courage. Team leaders and members need to have the courage to innovate, “ask difficult questions,” to counter various forms of active or passive resistance, and to experiment.

In short, harnessing the strength of a team means bringing out the best in everyone, making sure that the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals offset each other—there is true synergy in working together. In failing teams, everyone might as well stay home. In high-performance teams, the whole team is greater than the sum of its individual members.