Equalizing the Managing-to-Leading Ratio

Jim Kouzes

Q: When preparing to deliver The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, I like to call each participant in advance to find out what they expect to get out of the workshop. Recently, one of the participants said he'd like to figure out how to make his managing-to-leading ratio be more equal. Have you come across this issue in your leadership research? Do you have any suggestions that might help this person with this common challenge?

A: I was talking to a colleague today about this issue, so I know how real this is for many people. Warren Bennis once commented in writing about his tenure as president of the University of Cincinnati, "Routine work drives out non-routine work and smothers to death all creative planning, all fundamental change in the university-or any institution" (see page 189 of The Leadership Challenge, 3rd Edition) Warren might as well have also been talking about leadership. Routine work is often associated with managing and non-routine with leading.

That said, Peter Drucker also commented in response to a question about the difference between managing and leading and said that while there is a distinction between the two, they both have to be done by the same person, so he wonders why we make such a distinction. I think both Bennis and Drucker have relevant points. Both are talking about how we spend out time as manager-leaders (I use manager-leaders here because not all leaders are managers, at least by title). Both would acknowledge that there are a lot of tasks a manager-leader has to perform. Both would agree that there is a lot of routine work that we have to perform in our roles. Both would agree that routine work can overwhelm us.

What I try to do is acknowledge the dilemma, but also suggest that we reframe the situation. I would suggest that manager-leaders are BOTH managing and leading 100% of the time. They cannot separate themselves from the fact that constituents expect and deserve both, and both are absolutely essential. This requires a bit of reframing on the part of manager-leaders, but it can help in getting folks to see the situation differently.

For example, manager-leaders are ALWAYS being watched by their constituents. Every decision, action, speech, email, letter, visit, story, etc. sends a signal. The question then is, are the signals one is sending with ones' behavior consistent with stated values or are they inconsistent with them? Whether they like it or not, manager-leaders are Modeling the Way all the time. The question is, are they modeling the appropriate behavior? Are people saying, "His/her mouth says one thing, but his/her feet say another?" Or, are they saying, "This leader's words and deeds are aligned?" What leaders must realize is that Modeling the Way is not something you do when you get around to it, it's something you do every minute of the day, no matter what other tasks you are performing.

Second, a lot of leadership takes only minutes, even seconds. Take Encourage the Heart. The data is really clear on this. To be fully engaged, people need to be positively recognized at least once a week by their manager. Let's say I have 10 direct reports. That would mean in a given week, I should be recognizing, on average, two of my direct reports each day. Now, I could look at this as something formal and organized, or I could look at this as a simple "thank you." The "thank you" takes only seconds-minutes at most-and can be just as significant as some big celebration that takes weeks to organize. Encouraging the Heart is both of those things, and if you add up all the 10 one-minute recognitions they have cumulative effect.

As one final example, take Inspire a Share Vision-the most difficult practice according to our research. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is remembered 43 years after it was delivered in 1963. Think about it. Forty-three years later we remember the power of a speech that took under three minutes. Under three minutes! You can influence people's actions and thoughts in under three minutes. (Psychologists would tell us we can influence in a lot less time than that, actually.) It's not about how much time you spend. It's about the power of the message. Now, I will grant you that the dream didn't happen overnight. It didn't pop into his head in an instant. It took a lot of thought, a lot of trial and error, a lot of revisions, a lot of practice. But, in the end, those three minutes are some of the most important three minutes in modern history. So, I would encourage manager-leaders to spend more time in their regularly scheduled minutes to have a dialogue about peoples' hopes and dreams for the future. How about ten minutes a week to start? Or, spend one meeting a month on nothing but these questions: "Are we in this job to do something, or are we in this job for something to do? If we're in this job to do something, then what is it we're here to do? If people were to be talking about our contributions, our legacy, five years from now, what would you hope they would say?" I have to believe that the manager who raised this issue has sixty minutes a month to spend on these important questions.

So, in short: you are leading and managing 100% of the time. You can't escape the importance of both roles. How can your reframe the situation you are in so you can accommodate both roles?

I wish you all the best of luck with your next program.

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