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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Leadership and Management

For over thirty years, “You manage things; you lead people” from Grace Hopper was my guide in distinguishing between leadership and management. This month I’ve had several learnings that make me want to refine that idea. While she could have been wrong, I suspect I am coming to a fuller understanding of the good Admiral.

I’ve always imagined those “things” as file cabinets, common equipment with a defined purpose.

You plan for how many file cabinets you need based on number of files and capacity of each drawer. Last week, Jack and I were running the check-in table at an open source event. Based on the scarcity of people doing other administrative tasks, we were overstaffed. Based on providing high quality welcoming, we were correctly staffed. That wasn’t leadership, however it did generate precise data of our “no-show” rate, which is important in a pizza-fueled environment, and possibly for a couple of other reasons.

As anyone who has ever ordered letter sized file cabinets for legal sized files can attest, having the correct capabilities and attributes is important. Defining capabilities and attributes required of people is not that hard, and seldom done correctly. It is harder now that we are in a time of rapid change. But completing the first attempt means there is a better chance of completing follow-on attempts, until maybe (who knows?) that practice becomes an expected part of a culture.

Nothing like having your file cabinets in the wrong place to assure their lack of contribution. Staging people with proper equipment to meet actual demand is a good trick. I laugh when “managers” ascribe a failure to unexpected demand. I ascribe it to a lack of effective management.

So what about Leadership?

Murphy’s Laws of Combat – Planning, #3 No plan survives the first contact intact.

People are hugely adaptable. They can out-think and out-work other options. That’s why they have survived for all of history. (If there wasn’t history, it was another record, like geologic.)

Leadership involves walking the talk. Whatever you do is what you can expect your best people to do, good and bad. Best you do what you want them to do.

Leadership involves going first, doing the work, understanding the work. How many times have you seen a management requirement, some nice-to-have, that created project failure?

Leadership involves getting the enthusiastic support of the following. That’s not exhortation, That is showing something that absolutely works better. Best practices are either blatantly obvious, or they are not best practices.

Does this change how you observe your favorite leader?
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