Monday, October 17, 2011

More on Leadership - You Have to Be a Leader Too

See my latest on the subject at this post.

While my post about leadership and management was generally well received and got record views, my rhetorical flourish put some people off while also supporting my thesis in a way.  Critics have characterized managers as meek block checkers and the sorts that ensure the TPS reports are duly filed and go on "making the ham sandwich" for higher headquarters, no matter how ridiculous the demand for the ham sandwich is.  Another comment was that managers manage things while leaders lead people.  These criticisms underline that we in the military know so little about management and are so put off by it due to bad management, that it is tantamount to being a dirty word.  Furthermore, I downplayed leadership in the post for several reasons.  One, military officers are steeped in rhetoric and education on leadership.  If you don't already "get it" to some degree by the time you're a mid-level company grade, you're probably a hopeless case.  Two, I'm an anonymous typist on here for most of you, so my focus on management may make me sound like a meek bean counter wannabe manager-as-leader.  I take leadership very seriously and I'm the last guy, in my mind anyway, to keep my head down and do the TPS reports.  In my billets, I did try to manage our metrics well and keep the blocks green, but I also stood up to stupidity to the limits of propriety (and sometimes maybe a little beyond).  Most importantly, I tried to make sure that we created the reality of the intent behind the green blocks and that this reality took priority over good numbers.  I think I'm a better leader than manager, and if I can't be equally good at both, I'd rather be better at leadership.  Third, in the blog post I focused on management and dissed leadership-as-a-parlor-trick to make a rhetorical point.  When you add all these together, I'm not saying that military officers should be managers first.  I'm saying that we collectively have a big leadership claw and a tiny little management claw.  What is more, we are not making an effort as an institution to develop the management claw.  The situation is so bad that management is seen pejoratively among many officers.

To counter one of the distinctions made in a comment at SWJ, you can manage people, not just things.  You can manage their efforts, their assignments (not just in the big institutional HR way, but within a unit), you can manage their development within your unit, you can manage the tasks you give them, and for goodness sake, manage the meetings you make them sit through and the other exchanges of information in your unit.  But all of this has to be coupled with leadership.  Thus, many definitions of management include leadership.

Management does not replace leadership, but poor management creates problems leadership, usually at lower levels, needs to solve, including poor morale, misspent time and effort, and what the hell are we doing questions.

Leadership takes on far more importance in combat operations, especially at the small unit level.  This is one reason why people are often more content with the deployed environment.

So, I'd ask you to try to see management in a new light.  Think of good management and what it would mean to you.  Banish the images of bean counters and those a-holes up at echelons above reality from your picture of management.  Think of how management, coupled with leadership, can improve how we utilize, and thus make worth of, our people.  Pick up a Harvard Business Review sometime and skim the articles.  Read a few lines of a management book at Barnes and Noble on a weekend.  Try to glean some wisdom from people who take management seriously, not as a epithet, and consider whether we'd be a better organization if we coupled management with leadership, rather than focusing on leadership alone. And think of some of the bad examples of leadership and the problems that mismanagement has made for you as a leader to realize that leadership can be a dirty word too.  It isn't the word, it is the addition of the word and reality poor in front of it that makes leadership or management a bad thing.

For further reading, continue to this post.


  1. This is bumperplate....linked over from SWJ and LoD.

    Do you plan on expanding this leadership v. management discussion? I'd be interested to see where it leads.

    My first introduction to "management" was on staff. Had a tremendous mentor. That seems to be the only way we really learn this management stuff - get thrown into the fire and figure it out and/or get advice and mentorship.

    Would like to see how we could make it more effective, cultivated, and enduring.

  2. Bumperplate,
    Right now, I'm teeing up a post about the CNAS "Hard Choices" report and why DoD is probably the only organization in the world, well maybe the only organization other than the Vatican, that thinks that its aims should not be impeded by worldly concerns such as money or resources. I guess that tangentially relates to the management discussion. I'll probably come back to the management thing later this week as it seems to have struck a chord. I'll try to touch on some ideas for how to institutionalize "management" as a complement to leadership by actually learning people how to do it.

  3. Been following the CNAS "Hard Choices" stuff as well....hard to follow sometimes and I can't help but feel some of the analysis is out of touch with ground truth.

    My biggest mantra is waste - get rid of it. I believe the people at CNAS said there wasn't enough waste to fix the problem. That may be true, but it's the best place to start. Otherwise we never see a true baseline.

    It's bumperplate...I should probably get a login at one of these fancy sites or something.