Leaders vs. Managers (warning: cliche ahead)

Here’s a couple cliché leadership vs. management quotes to start this article:

·      “Managers light a fire under people, Leaders light a fire in people.”

·      “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

For years, I thought all good leaders needed to be good managers and would always roll my eyes when someone would talk about the difference between leaders and managers. In most our rural organizations, very few people have the opportunity to lead an organization without having to manage people and processes within the organization.

The Leadership Challenge revolves around five practices:

·      Model the Way

·      Inspire a Shared Vision

·      Challenge the Process

·      Enable Others to Act

·      Encourage the Heart

I believe great leaders need to do all five. I also believe great managers need to do four of the five. I believe the difference between leaders and managers is leaders need to provide and inspire a shared vision.

It is the responsibility of leadership to move an organization forward. Leadership should spend time thinking about where the organization is going to be five and ten years from now.

With that being the case, one doesn’t need to be naturally futuristic to establish a vision. The ability of an individual to listen to those involved is a large part in shaping a shared vision. When I started as Vice President of McCook Community College, I met individually with most of the staff on the campus. From this, I understood more about what was important and what possibilities people saw for the school. I also continually looked for opportunities to visit with students about their experience. When I understood their hopes and dreams, I could determine the best way to move forward.

Besides listening, it is important for a leader to always be learning. It is important to be studying the changes taking place within your industry and with the trends happening outside of your world. Today, that information is easier to find than ever. At the college, it was helpful to attend state and national conferences about higher education. It was probably more important to listen to podcasts and read about what is happening outside of higher education. For me, the daily podcast of Marketplace keeps me informed, as well as podcasts by Adam Grant, Andy Stanley, and Entreleadership keep me informed of important trends. Most of the best ideas we were able to implement were from outside higher education, adapted to what we were capable of doing.

Listening and learning are both key, but it is also important to be thinking about the past, present, and future when it comes to setting a vision. Here are questions I use to help me in my thought process about a future vision:

Questions Thinking About the Past

·      What have been some of the organization’s core values?

·      What has made your organization stand out?

·      What positive stories are told about your organization’s past?

Questions Thinking About the Present

·      What are the current problems or successes your organization is facing?

·      Who are the champions in the organization?

·      What do your customers say about you?

·      What capacity does your organization have financially and in terms of staffing?

Questions Thinking About the Future (In five years . . .)

·      . . . What innovations has the organization courageously tested out?

·      . . . What external partnerships have flourished?

·      . . . What is the organization’s culture?

·      . . . What attitude adjustments have taken place?

·      . . . How has technology impacted the organization?

These questions are just a start. The challenge of establishing a vision is to be able to step back from the day to day challenges to listen to your staff and customers, to learn about trends inside and outside your industry, and to ask questions that can define your vision. Successful leaders find a way to develop a vision and then inspire the team around the vision.

One of the most powerful activities I’ve done around establishing a vision is The River Story. It is a narrative of what a customer sees five years from now, thanks to the changes you have inspired and led. If you are curious about what this looks like or instructions for how to do this, send me a note. Also, if you have tips for how you inspire a shared vision, send them my way.