Friday, April 27, 2012

Being at the Top of the Org Chart Does NOT Make You a Leader

My husband called me on his way home the other day and asked if I knew the origin of the word leader.  I’m a person who enjoys etymology, but I had to admit, I didn’t know the root of the word “lead” or “leader.”  He explained that its origin was in guiding the way, or showing by example. 

Indeed, I looked it up in the etymology dictionary, and found the definition:  “to guide, cause to go with, show by going in advance of.” 

It made me think about the age-old distinction between leaders and managers. 

In contrast, the etymology dictionary defines manage as “to handle” coming from the Latin root “manus” meaning “hand.”

So, etymologically, leaders guide and show the way, and managers handle tasks, people, and things. 

In my own experience, I’ve witnessed many of those at the top of the org chart, or at a minimum with others below them in the org chart, anoint themselves “leader” and then do nothing other than “strategic” activities.  The distinction of “leader” seemed to be license to stop doing and to justify only thinking about and planning for, but leaving the doing, and the implementation to the staff.

It brought to mind an interesting article by Bob Sutton that was published in Fast Company magazine called “Why Big Picture Only Bosses are the Worst.”

He discusses how bosses who think their only job is to “generate big and vague ideas …and treat implementation…as mere ‘management work’ best done by ‘the little people’ [use that distinction] to avoid learning about people they lead, technologies their companies use, [and] customers they serve.”

When you’re disconnected from your people and your operations, how can you determine appropriate strategy?

Not only does it set you up for poor strategy decisions, I think this distinction also encourages a lack of accountability.  If you’re the “strategist” and your people are the “implementers,” then any failure (and accountability) will certainly be in implementation.

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