Managers, leaders, it’s time to get us into the 21st century!

management and leadership

What is leadership? What is a leader’s job? Many people think leadership and management are synonymous. To me, they are not. Leaders lead people while managers manage systems. In my previous posts, “Why do we work the way we do? Reimagining how work can be like.” Part 1 and Part 2, we established that our environments have changed. Yet I still see people managing as if it’s the 20th century. So, before we talk about leadership, let’s talk about management. What is a 21st century manager’s job?

  1. It is not micromanaging. Management is no longer the people who think, and then tell the workers what to do and monitor their progress like a hawk. The workers can think for themselves. What they need is direction, understanding what problem they are trying to solve, and they can figure out how to solve it.
  2. It is not parenting little children. While you do need to care for people, it is not a parent-child relationship. That takes away people’s autonomy.
  3. It is not empire building. It’s not about you. Your job is about creating and managing the system that allows workers to do their best job. The “system” includes governance, policies, the KPIs, and the way you develop people.
  4. It is not wanting to do things in a specific way. Since the workers are the ones solving the problem, they are going to do it the way it most suits them, not you.

“Smoothing the flow of work, organizing work and teams to reduce dependencies and handoffs, is management work. Far more important than ‘supervision’.” – Esther Derby.

Now that we know what a 21st century manager’s job is, let’s explore what leaders do.

  1. Leaders help others to be and do what they think is not possible. 
  2. Leaders embrace complexity and creativity in knowledge work. Unfortunately, most people are trained to deliver, not to lead.
  3. Leaders empower people without telling them that they’re empowered.

Now, let’s bust some myths about leadership:

  1. Leaders don’t need titles or power to lead.
  2. Leaders are not experts. They create a space where teams can come together and shine. To be more specific, they create an environment where:
    • People can come to work and feel welcomed, accepted, respected, and valued.
    • People contribute to their fullest, bringing with them their own perspectives, understanding and experiences, without the fear of rejection and humiliation.
  3. Leaders are not necessarily natural born leaders. There are skills that anyone can learn. Those skills include mentoring, coaching (beyond the traditional learning of strategy), facilitation, and training.

Next time, we’ll go a lot deeper into leadership. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a quote from David Marquet, the author of “Turn the Ship Around”.

“A leader remains calm when tempted to anger. A leader is curious when tempted to convince. A leader models the behavior when tempted to blame. A leader seeks feedback when tempted to be defensive.” – David Marquet.


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