Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Leader Manager Cycle

Management development programs just aren't trendy any more. Everybody wants to be a leader. Well, you can't be a leader. In a hierarchical organisation, there can be only one. And you all have to follow him or her.

On the other hand, perhaps anyone can be a leader, and everyone will be a leader at some time, in some situation. If there's a fire in your office, does your CEO overrule the appointed fire marshall? As I've recently written in another article, the debate over whether leaders are born or bred can be settled as follows: Leaders are born, in that we are all born with the capacity to lead. Some people are bred to develop those innate qualities.

In any organisation, we see the same fundamental conflict that exists within all of us who suffer from this affliction called 'the human condition' - we want to be here, and we want to be somewhere else. We want more, without losing what we have. We want to be comfortable, and at peace, and content, and we want to be up and moving towards some new goal that has caught our eye. We can't have it both ways.

This is the organisational conflict of maintenance versus development. We want the organisation to grow, but we can't stop doing the things that we're doing. We have to pay the bills and look to the future, and the organisation that balances both of those will tend to be more successful over time. In a river, you have to swim to stay in the same place, and in an evolving market, you have to innovate just to stay where you are.

How does this relate to management and leadership?

The difference between management and leadership must first be defined, as follows. Management is the practice of maintaining the operations of an organisation, whereas leadership is the practice of developing the operations of an organisation. A manager is concerned with day-to-day activities, staff well-being and annual targets. A leader is concerned with strategy, growth and new opportunities. Therefore, there is always a balance between maintaining the organisation as it is today, versus reshaping it for the future.

Overall, management development will strengthen best practice in day-to-day operations, but will tend to maintain the organisation as it is today. Even if the organisation has no growth plans, the market is evolving, and competition is increasing from both local and foreign players. If the organisation is unable to respond to market changes then every new development becomes a significant threat, eroding markets and shifting customer focus to more exciting competitors.

Leadership development has the potential to strengthen best practice in growing and adapting the organisation to change. In an evolving market, an organisation must adapt just to maintain its current position. With strong leadership skills at both the local and head office levels, and effective communication between the two, market innovations transform from a threat to an opportunity, with access to customers and market channels that were not previously available. Growth in the business drives the need for new management practices, which in turn feeds back into management development, and the two areas work together in a complementary cycle.

If you're a gardener, do you plant new seeds or mow the lawn?

If you're an engineer, do you create new machines or fix the old ones?

If you're a chef, do you deliver customer orders or create new recipes?

The reality is that serving your current customers looks to the past, and finding new customers looks to the future, and that is the essential conflict that plagues us. Other lifeforms just exist in the moment. Our advanced brains deny us that pleasure, giving us both memories and imaginations that create new realities.

Whatever you do for a living, you need to juggle both; past and future, to maintain and to create. It is in our nature, and it's something we were all born to excel at.

It's not a choice or a compromise between leading and managing. You need to do both.


Peter Freeth is a leadership and talent expert who is currently juggling the past and future whilst also creating new insights to share with others.

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