President Obama’s leadership has recently come into question due to the Affordable Care Act’s website challenges. The Economist magazine recently suggested that even Obama’s supporters are now concerned that he is a terrible manager.
It begs the question: Does good leadership require good management?
Warren Bennis famously wrote “good managers do things right, while good leaders do the right things.” This is more than a play on words.
While some may argue that creating the Affordable Care Act in the first place was not the right thing, executing what was created and passed into law should be up to those responsible for managing things right.
Leaders should be about creating strategy and managers should be about executing strategy.
In Obama’s apology to the American people for the technical problems surrounding the website, he defended Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. “Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” he said. “You know, I’m the president. This is my team. If it’s not working, it’s my job to get it fixed.”
Taking responsibility for the failures of those reporting to him is a sign of good leadership. Years to come, President Obama knows the ultimate success or failure of Obamacare will be attached to him regardless of how many other people work on it.
This responsibility is a huge component of leadership. That’s why business leaders and sports coaches get huge salary increases with the success of their companies or teams, and why they get fired if these companies or teams fail.
In my experience, good managers don’t necessarily make good leaders. Some of them, however, do become great managers. And we can’t have too many of them. Great managers get results, execute strategy and fulfill the mission.
Great leaders, on the other hand, create and communicate a compelling vision others want to follow. They also ensure the right people are in the right place, and they engage them to bring out their best.
And perhaps somewhat surprisingly, great leaders don’t necessarily make great managers. That’s because they require a different set of skills.
The best leaders are focused on strategy and looking at the big picture without getting mired in the execution of that strategy.
Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer will soon step down from the CEO job because as he stated they needed to break a pattern and he’s a pattern. His management style included requiring direct reports to provide a massive amount of data and details before decision making, an environment with corporate silos where colleagues competed with each other for resources, and the recently dropped rank order performance-appraisal practice that pitted people against each other for personal gain rather than encouraged collaboration and cooperation for the good of Microsoft.
While Ballmer tripled Microsoft’s revenue during his 13 years at the helm, this came from their existing markets and the company missed huge opportunities in Web-search engine advertising and the overall shift of consumers to mobile devices and social media.
Ultimately, Ballmer admitted he had created an environment where managers were so focused on trees instead of the forest that it was impossible for him to change their thinking. Trees, of course, should be the primary focus for managers and forests the primary focus of leaders. But neither can lose sight of the other.
Managers should be laser-focused on day-to-day execution. They should be concerned with ensuring the strategy is executed as planned.
Is it therefore really possible for anyone to be far-sighted for strategy and at the same time near-sighted for execution?
In my work as an executive coach, I try to help middle managers and directors build leadership skills so they can become more effective and advance their careers. I help them focus on competency areas that will enable them to grow their leadership capacity. But this doesn’t mean they will all become great leaders.
Some of us are better suited for vision, while others are more suited for process. Some more concerned with asking why and others with asking how.
Being able to shift back and forth between seeing the future vision and the day-to-day reality is extremely valuable, but there is a natural tendency to have a dominant perspective.
Ballmer’s successor may very well need to be more a visionary like Bill Gates if Microsoft is to transition back to the dominate player it was previously.
If Obama is to be successful with the Affordable Care Act, he will ultimately need to ensure he does in fact have the right people in place to execute his vision. He will also need to do a better job communicating not only to these people, but also to the American people.
Any leader can only be as great as the quality of the managers he or she leads.
— One Comment —
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