Have you ever looked at the difference between power and control in leadership and management? Here’s what I’m guessing. Power and control are quite different and sometimes in conflict. The more control you have, the less power. Does that make sense? I’m just guessing here, not studying the literature.
The powerful leader creates and empowers powerful teams and lieutenants, inspires them with values, collaborates with them on goals, and then sets them loose to operate within general ranges and directions.
The controlling leader, in contrast, keeps teams and lieutenants on a tight leash. They check back constantly. They move much more slowly because they can’t make a significant decision without their leader.
The powerful leader sets goals and metrics. The controlling leader reviews to-do lists, tasks, and details.
Which brings me to some follow-on questions:
Are you a leader? Do you set your teams loose or keep them under control?
What happens when the would-be powerful leader fails to inspire and set goals and ranges and directions?
What happens when the would-be powerful leader doesn’t have the right teams and lieutenants?
How much of this power vs. control range is a matter of the leader either trusting the teams and lieutenants’ ability and judgment, or fearing their incompetence?
Which style is more likely to get good results? Which is more likely to defend against bad results?
With due respect to some of the great thinkers who have, I don’t understand how anybody even tries to define, teach, or even predict good management technique.
Even if it’s just one manager and one person being managed, there are already three huge factors: the manager, the other person, and the situation. Both the people involved have their strengths and weaknesses and all that. And the situation itself, what’s going on, is an entire additional set of factors. Then there’s baggage from the past, and, well, it becomes an infinite problem. Higher math. Condemned to infinite case-by-case analysis.
I think about what I’ve heard about coaches in professional athletics. Sometimes a supposedly hard-nosed, tough coach will win the championship, and sometimes a supposedly “people person,” softer coach, will. And occasionally you hear about a coach who is either hard or soft to each individual player, depending on his sense of how that specific player responds. There too, though, with coaching, it’s a pretty complex problem, because it’s about the nature of the coach, the nature of the player, and the nature of the situation.
So too with wielding authority in your own business.
What reminded me today was Karen Hough’s Handling Tough Conversations in 3 Simple Steps, on Small Business Trends. She’s sharing data from interviews with more than 1,000 of managers in larger companies. She found that the hardest part of their job was “tough conversations.” Here’s a quote:
Conflict makes most people nervous, so we avoid having those tough conversations, even if we know it may produce a better outcome. A study of more than 1,000 project managers across 40 companies found that if project leaders were willing to break a code of silence, they could substantially improve their ability to execute on initiatives.
Although that study was done with middle managers in larger corporations, I know that it applies very well to small business and entrepreneurship. The code of silence is a reluctance to deal with poor performance, bad news, and negative feedback. It’s certainly a problem every manager has to face.
In her post, Karen shares is three-pronged strategy to break what she calls the code of silence, changing the motif from authority to coaching. It’s not a cure-all by any means, but it could help. And I wish I had a better solution to offer, but I don’t.
I’m troubled. The problem, in a nutshell, is that saying jerks and idiots are bad bosses is a bit too easy. It implies that not being a jerk or worse makes you a good boss. And that’s not always true. Nice people can be bad bosses.
Still, there’s this problem: By focusing so much attention on what not to do, and who not to be, we tend to undervalue the hard side of being in charge. Being a good boss also means following up on unmet expectations and disappointing performance with leadership, advice, teaching, and demanding better.
I think I did this wrong myself. I think I let being a supposed nice guy interfere with my managing a company. You can’t be liked by all and also optimize performance. Sure, some people work best when left alone and encouraged, but – hard, ugly truth – others lose interest and grow entitled. Good bosses deliver both positive and negative feedback. Good bosses make the company better. Whether they’re liked or not.
This is not Bob Sutton’s fault, not the fault of his work. But he tells great stories of jerks and idiots, and stories are powerful, so stories gather. So we unconsciously think being a boss is about being nice. We forget the hard part.
I posted here Monday on Kermit Pattison’s interview with Randy Komisar. That was about the writing, which I found intriguing. I can’t resist commenting as well on what Randy Komisar says there. He’s now a partner in prestigious VC firm Kleiner Perkins, and has been a co-founder, CEO, or founding director of several major successes including Apple’s Claris, Tivo, and LucasArts. And what he says there is brilliant.
On classic mistakes of manager-wannabe-leaders:
A key point here is that leaders aren’t necessarily managers, and vice-versa. Randy says assuming a good manager is a good leader is “a classic mistake.” Here’s more:
Management is more operationally focused. It’s more of a supervisory role of setting priorities, allocating resources, and directing the execution. Leadership is more forward thinking, more about enabling the organization, empowering individuals, developing the right people, thinking strategically about opportunities, and driving alignment.
On needing the right kind of leadership at the right time:
The conversation there goes through how CEOs are like breeds of dogs, and I’ll leave you to click to the original to get Randy’s description of the retriever, the bloodhound, the husky, and the St. Bernard. The important lesson there, which I completely believe, is:
There are different talents in the creation of businesses and running of businesses that need to be taken into consideration.
And Randy fills that idea in with practical examples:
A mistake often made in the venture investment business is rushing to bring in a big CEO into what is still a small venture. The mismatch of skills is severe. The big CEO needs resources, needs a strong sense of direction and momentum, and is not very effective day-to-day with a bunch of people putting bits and bytes together. The other mismatch that’s harder to foresee is the small company with momentum. You say, great, let’s bring in the guy who can grow it to $100 million and take it public. The problem is that you may face yet another significant right or left hand turn in your business which that CEO may be completely unqualified to do.
Too Many Bullets and Not Enough Zen
This is my second post on that phrase now — bullets and zen — and I’m still loving it. Kermit asks Randy who’s being particularly thoughtful about leadership lately. I love his answer (warning: this is another Zen reference, even after my not Zen post last week. Discretion is advised.)
I’ve given up on the guru model and think more in the Zen model: things will change and that’s okay. What we need is a set of constant provocations. What I like to read are those things that really challenge my assumptions, authors who are willing to think differently, no matter whether I agree with them or not, because they at least broaden my own thinking. What I don’t like reading is the pablum–the 10 habits of great leaders or whatever. Those are constraining and not very effective for the average person.
What happens if you make light of your achievements, shun the spotlight, and pass the microphone on to the next person in line? Will this stunt your career growth?
I’ve worried about this for years. I used to deal with a guy who did very well as a professional expert, while knowing not much more than what he’d read the in a trade journal or two the night before a presentation. That never bothered him. And he did very well. And it kind of bothered me.
And then we have the new world order of personal branding, led by experts like Dan Schawbel, Jonathan Fields, Pam Slim, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, John Jantsch, and many others. Dan is the leading expert as defined by Google. Those others are great personal brands, acknowledged experts. What does personal branding say about humility? Can you get there with humility? (hint: some do, some don’t.)
I’d like to think that the world rewards people who let others tell their achievements. But does it? Can someone who doesn’t love the spotlight be a leader? A leader is defined by followers. What if you never take credit and stick in the background? Will your would-be followers ever find you? Will they give you credit?
A sense of humility is essential to leadership because it authenticates a person’s humanity. We humans are frail creatures; we have our faults. Recognizing what we do well, as well as what we do not do so well, is vital to self-awareness and paramount to humility.
He goes on, in that post, to list ways to demonstrate humility in the workplace. Temper authority, look to promote others, acknowledge what others do.
And yet, much as I like this idea, I think it has to be tempered with reality. People are busy. People need to be told what they think. If you don’t take credit, somebody else will. Baldoni says:
Can you be too humble in the workplace? Yes. If you fail to put yourself, or more importantly your ideas, forward, you will be overlooked. Chances for promotion will evaporate, but worse you will not give anyone a reason to believe in you. All of us need not lead others, but those who do seek to influence, to change, to guide, and to lead their organizations, need to find ways to get noticed. Again humility comes to the rescue. That is, if you celebrate team first, self second, people will notice what you and your team have achieved.
Damn: paradox. Lack of a general rule. All of it case by case. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a conclusion there about doing the right things in moderation. What do you think?