Much has been made about the difference between leaders and managers.* It’s as if there were pure types of each, and that out in the wild, we might be able to distinguish one from the other.
Even if we could, what would we gain from the exercise? I’m not sure we’d want to work for either.
One heartlessly cracking the whip over peons on treadmills in the bowels of the corporate machine. The other wafting among the clouds, blathering on about “vision,” but lacking any solid ground to place his sandaled foot so as to take the first step forward.
Really, there are no pure types. It takes a both the discipline and the vision to be effective. But in talking about the two, Alexander den Heijer points out where it might be best to place the emphasis.
If the machine is to function, there must be running on treadmills. It takes a skilled manager to arrange the machines in the proper order, get them plugged in, and organize people to run on them.
And they will willingly run in exchange for pay. But the crack of the whip will only get people to run just fast enough to avoid the crack of the whip.
We begin to lead when we help the runner see what all that effort will produce, how it achieves a greater purpose, and how they, personally, will grow from the exercise.
We lead when we help them feel that they are not peons on treadmills, but athletes in training, capable of great things.
Feelings matter. Often, the most effective way to help them feel important is not about talking at all, but listening.
When leaders help their teammates feel important, we open the windows of their musty workout room, and let them glimpse the possibilities beyond.
Then, under their feet, the treadmills themselves may even begin to edge forward.
* I’ve posted about this, too: What’s the Difference Between Manager and Leader, and Why Does it Matter?