“Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers arepeople who do things right.” Warren Bennis gave us this catchy way to talk about the difference between leaders and managers. If only that difference was so clear in reality. Henry Mintzberg, that venerable scholar of management studies, author of the classic HBR article, The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact, wrote a recent opinion piece for BusinessWeek in which he argues that the captains of industry need to do more managing and less leading. He writes:

…what we've been calling a financial crisis is actually one of management. Corporate America has had too much of fancy leadership disconnected from plain old management… U.S. businesses now have too many leaders who are detached from the messy process of managing. So they don't know what's going on.

Bill George, in his latest book, 7 Lessons for Leading in a Crisis, cites many examples of CEOs who were successful in saving their companies from disaster (i.e., bankruptcy or worse) precisely because they left their C-suites and got into the trenches with managers and customers, found out what was going on, and then worked with their managers to solve problems. One example he describes is David Neeleman, former CEO of JetBlue, who took responsibility for his airline’s Valentine’s Day disaster two and a half years ago that nearly destroyed the company he founded. See the interview.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1V2ff3easYc&fs=1&w=425&h=344]

Neeleman did and interview with Matt Lauer in which the embattled leader owns the problem, says what his company has already done to correct the problem, and offers restitution to everyone who was stranded at an airport during the days that JetBlue grounded its planes. He was able to take these actions because he immediately went into the field with his managers to analyze the system failures and figure out solutions. Unfortunately for Neeleman, he saved the company but in so doing, lost his job (Go figure!).

There are times when leaders need to manage and managers need to lead. John Baldoni, in his latest book, Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up, explains that at times even mid-level managers need to take on a leadership role and “speak truth to power”… if that is what is required for the good of the company.

Good management and good leadership are not much different. Mintzberg says that leadership is “management practiced well.” The recent crisis in auto companies and financial services firms provides many examples of leaders not managing well and managers not leading well.  They offer excuses (e.g., “I made the best decision I could with the information I had at the time.”) without taking responsibility and they offer a different future while not doing anything fundamental to change the present.

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