Managers vs. Leaders
The move from the high ground to the swamp in management writing during the past quarter century has been accompanied by an emphasis on leadership as an activity distinct from that of management. If management is concerned with “mapping” the task logic necessary to run an efficient firm, then leadership deals with something very different: the emotion-based logic of the people who work in the organization and whose commitment and focus are so important to its success.
This distinction between management and leadership was first brought to prominence by Harvard Business School professor Abraham Zaleznik in his seminal 1977 Harvard Business Review article “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” His conclusion was that they differed fundamentally in their world views: Managerial goals are passive and impersonal, arising out of the necessities of the existing business rather than people’s desires. Managers work to limit choices and reduce risk in pursuit of these goals. Their relationships with people are cool and are dominated by the roles that people play in the overall process. Managers see themselves as conservators and regulators of the existing state of affairs.
In contrast, leaders are active and personal in their goals. They shape ideas, changing the way people think about what is desirable, possible, and necessary. Leaders see their role as opening up options and encouraging risk taking. Their relationships with people are intense and personal, often evoking feelings of love and hate. Far from being conservators of the system, leaders see themselves as creating something new and different.
For example, in The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations (Harvard Business School Press, 2002), John P. Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor Emeritus of Leadership at Harvard Business School, recounts how the first action of one new CEO was to nuke the executive floor. Everyone in the corporation had known that the huge, art-filled, mahogany-paneled offices with their adjoining baths, showers, and conference rooms were a legacy from a bygone era, but no one had seriously thought to change them. The costs would be high and the benefits small, or so they thought. Now here was the new CEO tearing down the outsized offices and replacing them with smaller ones, putting in lots of shared meeting rooms and converting the express elevator that served only the executive floor into a local one that made all stops. The CEO’s purpose was to communicate the necessity for real gut-wrenching change, and the apparently extravagant removal of the old symbols of top-down rule sent a message more powerful than any PR campaign.
This story is one of 34 such anecdotes from Kotter’s new book, written with consultant Dan S. Cohen. They interviewed more than 200 people to extract stories of change. These real-life short stories amplify the dynamics of Kotter’s now well-known eight-step process of change (increase urgency, build the guiding team, get the vision right, communicate for buy-in, empower action, create short-term wins, don’t let up, and make change stick) first framed by him in Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996).
In The Heart of Change, Kotter contrasts two core patterns or methods of effecting change — the classic business school analyze-think-change sequence, and the more intuitive see-feel-change process. He finds that the first, more cerebral approach is rarely used in successful organizational change. The second approach, which engages people in the organization at the visceral level, is almost always present. Kotter uses the stories to demonstrate how the second mode was employed in each of the change steps. In one tale illustrating the first step, “increase urgency,” a purchasing agent dissatisfied with the corporation’s haphazard buying practices assembles samples of each of the 424 different gloves the company buys and dumps them with their disparate prices attached on the boardroom table. When executives are called in to see this amazing exhibit, it creates an urgency for change that is far more compelling than an abstract cost accountant’s report detailing possible savings. The problem is dramatically illustrated as real — here and now — rather than something theoretical dreamed up by a desk jockey.