As I continue my rant thoughts about the difference between management and leadership, let me recap the core difference between the two concepts.
Management is about optimization and leadership is about transformation.
So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stop using the terms manage/management and lead/leadership for now. I get too many reactions from people who cannot separate the bitterness of their past experiences with bad managers. It always leads to some sort of knock against the idea of management – which is just absurd. I mean, get over it already. We’ve all had those bad experiences, but you can’t knock the value of driving because of idiots with driver’s licenses. You get my point…
Instead, I will simply say optimize when I mean manage and transform when I mean lead.
At the master/uber strategic level, this distinction is huge. In other words, what is your strategy about – optimizing or transforming? It’s amazing how often I ask this question to folks and they don’t have any clarity on the answer. Which guarantees that everyone in the organization is making up their own answers as they go. Which would really suck if the most senior leaders of that organization actually intended the answer to be one or the other.
Imagine that – an entire organization trying to optimize their way through a transformation… Surely, that doesn’t describe your company.
(Side rant thought: We live in an age of massive shift. This means that MOST companies, if they are not brand new, need to transform how they work. Their entire model is rooted in Industrial Age realities (and thinking). These realities are either rapidly fading into history or, frankly, no longer exist. If you are one one these companies and your master strategy is not about fully transforming – and the people in your company are not committed to fully transforming – you’ve probably got substantial problems.)
But I want to turn our attention now to the individual level. Mainly, I want to talk about YOU.
Have you ever assessed your ability to optimize and/or transform?
It seems to me that we have all the capacity to do both, but in very different levels of proficiency.
For example, I am pretty good at optimizing, but I get bored with it after a while. I much prefer to transform. I see needed changes and am willing to completely dismantle sacred cows standardized processes and roles to create entirely new capabilities. As a result, my proficiency in transformation is higher.
But how do I measure my proficiency in optimizing/transforming?
Let me give you a simple way to assess it.
At the most basic level, there is the team. And when I say team, I simply mean a collection of people.
The next level up is how those people work. It is their processes and the way that the team works with each other.
The next level up is how the team works with other teams. It is the interconnection of various processes and relationships to produce outputs together. (Note: together means collaboratively, not in spite of…). These relationships can be internal to the organization or even external (hello, customer – and even supplier). And you cannot simply say how you worked with one other person (like your buddy in Finance) as a “team.”
Finally, the ultimate level is how you use information to make decisions. I call it information flow. It is WAAAAAAY bigger than simply using lines of communication, reporting, or technology. I’m talking about collecting data, analyzing it, and getting the entire organization to make decisions with it. The entire organization. Making decisions. To drive results. Not creating a report and sharing it with stakeholders.
Now, here is the test – how high have you gone in optimizing and/or transforming?
(Note: This is a napkin tool. It is REALLY dumbed down – enough to fit on a napkin as part of a lunch/dinner conversation. If you want to get serious, you have to assess more than one experience, in more than one level of complexity. Getting your kid’s soccer team transformed is wildly different than getting your team transformed in a Fortune 500 company.)
- Have you optimized a team? This means that you got the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the bus.
- Have you transformed a team? This means that you have actually redefined the roles on the team (and maybe even the purpose of the team). Then you got the right people into their new roles.
IF you have successfully done either of these, you may move up to the next level in that category. If you have not, you have to stop. This is your current optimize/transform level of proficiency.
- Next, have you optimized how your team works? This means that you have refined their processes and workflows to get better results.
- Have you transformed how your team works? This means that you have redefined their processes and workflows to get new/different results.
Assess and continue IF you have successfully done either of these…
- Have you optimized how different teams work together? This means that you have refined the roles, processes, and workflows of different groups to get better results.
- Have you transformed how different teams work together? This means that you have redefined the roles, processes, and workflows of different groups to get new/different results.
Assess and continue IF…
- Finally, have you optimized information flow? This means that you have reassigned/distributed the organization’s people, budget, and resources to make better decisions to get better results.
- Have you transformed information flow? This means that you have created/secured the organization’s people, budget, and resources to make new/different decisions to get new/different results.
I know this is a really crude approach to defining your management/leadership proficiency, but do you get a picture of where you stand? Can you see your own journey of optimizing and transforming?
When I walk through this exercise with folks (including myself), it is amazing how often we over-evaluate our proficiency levels.
- We often mistake (or assume) our leadership proficiency because we optimized really well. Once.
- We often mistake (or assume) our management proficiency because we have only transformed things.
- We often get wrapped up in job titles and dollar signs because the initiative we worked on delivered big numbers. But we were not in the actual position of being THE PERSON in charge of the optimization/transformation.
The implications go on and on…
If you are an individual contributor, give yourself an honest assessment. Do you want to be a better manager? Do you want to be a better leader? Do you need to change roles – or even companies – to make those changes? Define what your goals are and put a plan in place to pursue them.
If you are a senior leader (or even THE leader), give your team an honest assessment. Who are your managers and who are your leaders? But more importantly, what is your strategy? Is it to optimize or transform? And is your team up to the task?
I mua. Onward and upward.
By Tim Ohai