Doing the Right Thing Right
Too often, successful executives are classified as being either innovative leaders or efficient managers. The innovative leader is defined as a visionary, a passionate idealist, and an inspirational thinker. On the other hand, the efficient leader is process-oriented, a student of Total Quality Management (TQM), or a black belt disciple of Six Sigma. In reality, the successful person blends these seemingly opposite traits into inseparable qualities.
In his acclaimed book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis states, “The manager does things right; and the leader does the right thing.” He further differentiates the manager and the leader:
- The manager administers; the leader innovates
- The manager maintains; the leader develops
- The manager focuses on system and structure; the leader focuses on people
- The manager imitates; the leader innovates
- The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his own person
His comparisons suggest that the manager is limited in potential, with a narrow view of the world. To Bennis, the leader is obviously a superior person who’s grown beyond trivialities – like the systems and processes needed for effectiveness.
Similarly, many process management proponents stress the importance of measuring and analyzing work steps. While texts may refer to “process owners”, the words “leadership” or “vision” aren’t used, suggesting that the key to success lies in removing the human element of the processing equation. I’m not aware of any management processes that don’t involve people.
To be successful, you need to be a leader and a manager. You must know where you want to take your organization, and map out a broad path to get there. You also need to have a detailed plan to overcome any barriers you may encounter. You should set your sights on the mountaintop, but you must react quickly to any obstacles in front of you, or you’ll never reach the summit.
Innovation is important, yet even the most original business ideas are inspired by the actions or words of someone else. We all follow in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before us. Even after trumpeting originality over imitation, Mr. Bennis proceeds to offer up examples of leaders upon which we can model our lives. We may be our “own best teacher”, but everyone one of us can learn from others.
From self-evaluation to self-improvement
Can the “big picture” person also pay heed to the minutiae that make up the process? Can the detail person divert their attention from the flowcharts long enough to see where they’re going? Can one person focus on the details and the big picture? The answer is yes – with some effort, and with some help.
First, we must recognize our own weaknesses. You need to conduct a self-evaluation of your leadership and management skills. Note the areas where you could improve, and rate your skill level for each one. If you have access to the resources, take a professional skills assessment exam. While these exercises are often used to direct you to jobs that play to your strengths, we want to concentrate on your weaknesses. Not dwell on them, but improve them.
And the only way to improve is through training. Again, if you have the resources, take courses run by specialists in the subject matter. Self-study and reading are excellent alternatives. Every bookstore (online and brick-and-mortar) has large sections on leadership and management. And the Internet gives you quick access to a wealth of information on these subjects. And as always, don’t forget my favorite information source — your local public library.
You must complete courses and read books on the subjects where you need help, not the subjects you like. This means the dreamers must spend energy on learning about planning, efficiencies, and project management. Likewise, process gurus need to spend time on creativity, innovation and leadership skills. You may have avoided these subjects in the past because you think they’re tedious to learn or you don’t agree with a particular viewpoint. Chocolate cake may taste better than vegetables, but you need a well-rounded diet to stay physically healthy. Likewise, you need a well-rounded education, and a broad skill set to succeed in today’s world.
Also, surround yourself with people who have complementary skills (not to be confused with “complimentary” skills – we’ll work on your ego in a future column). If detail work is your weakness, find a quality lover and make them your deputy. And if you prefer process to people, hire an innovator to bring you ideas for change. You don’t need another person saying “yes” all the time and singing your praises at every meeting. You need a foil who shares your desire for success, but is willing to point out there may be other ways to achieve those goals.
Making a change in style isn’t easy — but it’s something you can do. Recognizing the need for constant self-evaluation and self-improvement is a sign of strength and maturity. There’s so much left to learn whether you’ve been in business for two weeks or for 20 years. And today, we have greater access to the information we need to learn. “That’s just the way I am” doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to think, “That’s the way I want to be.”
Working on your weaknesses will help you see yourself and your decisions in a new light. You should be true to your principles and beliefs. And you should consider other viewpoints before committing to a major decision.
Practicing management without leadership, or leadership without management is a recipe for failure. Management and leadership skills are two sides of the same coin. And a one-sided approach, like a one-sided coin, is obviously counterfeit and holds no real value. You need both qualities to ensure that you and your organization are successful in your endeavors.
Managers may do things right. And leaders may do the right thing. You need to do the right thing right.
Lois Ritarossi is the President of High Rock Strategies, a consulting firm focused on sales and marketing strategies, and business growth for firms in the print, mail and communication sectors. Lois brings her clients a cross-functional skill set and strategic thinking with disciplines in business strategy, sales process, sales training, marketing, software implementation, inkjet transformation, and workflow optimization. Lois has enabled clients to successfully launch new products and services with integrated sales and marketing strategies, and enabled sales teams to effectively win new business. You can reach Lois at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at email@example.com.