In Leading Change, John Kotter states that some organizations try to implement a change program which is then likely to be “overmanaged and underled.” In The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership-Powered Company by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, that theme is more broadly developed. They write:
Because of the new business realities, including ever increasing and unpredictable complexity; AND, because businesses “dramatically reduced their investment in talent development, greatly reducing or even eliminating training programs, development assignments, and time for coaching,” the famine for leaders is acute.
1. The need for leaders has grown exponentially.
2. There are not enough leaders to meet the demand.
3. There is not enough “talent” from which to develop enough leaders.
4. The inevitable consequence is that many (most?) companies are at least partly underled, thus underperforming.
Other authors, almost too numerous to mention, echo such sentiments. Now comes The Best Leadership Is Good Management: Too many so-called leaders fancy themselves above the messy, but crucial, work of managing by Henry Mintzberg in the latest Business Week (published on-line on Aug. 6, 2009). Mr. Mintzberg argues that the opposite is true. He states:
Corporate America has had too much of fancy leadership disconnected from plain old management.
We’re overled and undermanaged. As someone who teaches, writes, and advises about management, I hear stories about this every day: about CEOs who don’t manage so much as deem—pronouncing performance targets, for instance, that are supposed to be met by whoever is doing the real managing.
So – which is it? I suggest that it is both. I think there has been a failure in management. This is the point of such books as Execution and Six Disciplines Execution Revolution. Execution is all about management processes, actually getting the job done, well, and on time. But I think we also face a failure of leadership. It is leadership failure that keeps companies from facing an uncertain future with a strategy to survive and thrive. How many have said that General Motors should have seen the changing landscape far before it did? Leadership is about seeing the big picture, setting the direction—and then making sure that the job gets done.
So – I agree that we’ve got to get a whole lot better at management. But we’ve also got to get a whole lot better at leadership.
Robert Greenleaf nailed this years ago in Servant Leadership. He described two kinds of leaders. His terms were different: Conceptualizers and Operators. But the two roles are the same – an organization needs leaders to help them see the future (conceptualizers), and leaders who can make that future happen (operators).
So, here’s Randy weighing in on the debate. I think Mr. Mintzberg is both right and wrong. He is right – we are undermanaged. But he is wrong – we are not overled. Too many American organizations are, sadly, both undermanaged and underled.