I consider myself a student of leadership. Leadership in some form occupies my thinking during both my work time and my free time, and there’s always something I can learn. So while I was reading the book “It Takes More Than Concrete,” by Dr. Robert L. Bowen, the founder of Bowen Engineering, I was caught by the succinct way he described the differences between leadership and management:
- Management – Promoting stability and dealing with process
- Leadership – Promoting change and dealing with people
These neat but broad definitions really spoke to me. I focus much more on leading (change in particular) than I do on managing – it is more natural to me. Clearly there is value in both, and particularly the ability to toggle between the two as required. As I think of situations in society over the last 18 months, both management and leadership has been required, however I would argue that leadership has been more necessary than ever before.
The stress of the pandemic has forced us to focus on change and people more than stability and process. In times like this, leaders surface quickly and managers are needed to implement the new normals as they become apparent. These new normals have changed rapidly, and keeping pace with an upbeat attitude has been a struggle for everyone, particularly people focused on stability and process.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear the owner of the Cleveland Indians – soon to be Guardians – speak about the process of the name change. It was a remarkable story. The goal was to manage to an outcome (stability and process), but the events of the world and the feedback to the organization required leadership to an outcome quickly (change and people) in order to act. Hearing this backstory gave me another perspective and appreciation for quickly toggling from managing to leading when conditions warrant.
The distinction between management and leadership is more important now than ever in these times when triggers are short, opinions are strong (and sometimes confused as facts), and mental well-being is challenging. It seems like we have pulled all the slack out of the rope and struggle to extend grace where it may be needed. We need to lead our way to calm, not manage our way to it. We won’t get there quickly enough if we over-focus on process.
When in doubt, lead. If not you, let someone else do it and support them. There will be a time to manage once we are through the turbulence of the situations today.
Hang in there.