The embarrassing exposure and resulting humiliation of some of businesses top executives the past few years compelled me to revisit my life-long quest for insight into this murky world and served as a catalyst for crystallizing these thoughts into a distillable format. The problem is simple: Why are there so many managers and so few leaders? No one ever goes to “Managership Training,” there is no “International Manager University,” you can’t buy a plaque that says, “Manage, follow, or get out of the way,” and I’ve never heard of a firm marketing themselves as “thought managers.” (Heck, even kids know the value of a leader; ever hear them play “Follow the Manager?”)
Yet in spite of all of this emphasis on leadership, we’ve become a nation with managers everywhere and almost no leaders to be found. Somehow society repeatedly sets out to create leaders and ends up with managers and I think I’ve finally figured out why. A manager is someone you follow because you HAVE to, whereas a leader is someone because you follow because you WANT to. Think about those pet owners you’ve seen walking their dog on a leash. How satisfying is it for the dog OR the owner, knowing that, if the leash wasn’t clamped tightly around the dog’s neck and held firmly by the owner, the dog would immediately bolt and never look back. Now contrast that with the joy and freedom of a dog and an owner out for a walk without a leash, free to run and play. The net result, a “walk,” is still the same, but the experience is incomparable; transformed from pride-swallowing drudgery into a mutually satisfying exchange. You don’t follow managers – you report to them, you obey them, you cc them. Most managers are only “in charge” because they “hold the leash” and have the ability to reward or punish those beneath them. A true leader is the one with the confidence to remove the leash, in fact, to not even OWN a leash, confident that their vision and direction is so compelling that people will follow voluntarily, convinced and motivated on an individual basis that by following all will be better off.
I believe the reason there are so few leaders is because few have a truly compelling vision, few have the fortitude to take the risk, and because organizations are designed to punish those who aspire to lead. Because leaders are focused on results, their mind is always on the future, predicting how evolving external trends will overlay with existing processes. This outward facing “visionary” posture leaves them little time to “watch their back” and hence extremely vulnerable to “managers” who see them as a threat to the status quo. All too often, organizations will “kill their own” as aspiring leaders are stymied by politically-minded managers, seizing the exposed vulnerability of the risk-takers to deal a death blow, thus ensuring the continued reign of mediocrity.
As Harold S. Geneen once said, ''Leadership is practiced - not so much in words - as in attitude and in actions,'' and another famous person (can’t remember who, but it wasn’t Seth Godin this time) said, “Managers say “Go”- Leaders say “Let’s go!” My hope is that you will muster the courage, accept the challenge, and unleash your leadership!