Sunday, February 18, 2007

Magic and Management

Managing is an experience, but then so is a root canal and the two experiences seem to have much in common. That is both are some times painful but both have certain rewards once the pain is over. Nevertheless there are many people who actually desire to lead the band. To members of the band being the Maestro seems like a great and enviable position but anyone who has stepped up front knows that if you want to lead the band you have to face the music. The reality is that the manager – or in the more contemporary term leader – is the focal point for dissatisfied customers, unhappy team members, clueless superiors and that their actual ability to control or influence events is almost nil and the larger the band the more this is so. Consequently some days the manager might prefer to set his hair on fire rather than go to the office, but then there are those other days when things actually go as planned. True the number of days when this happens is woefully few, but they do occur and in the long term that usually makes everything worthwhile. Leading may be a lonely business but it is also fun and in the long run it can be rewarding even though it frequently means hours of wading through tedious details and listening to complaints and problems that would tax a saint.

And this brings us to one of those great unanswered questions, which is – why does anyone want to take on the task of managing much less leading anything? Of course masochism comes to mind but no one really knows why anyone wants to subject themselves to the stresses of leading an organization or indulging in self-flagellation either but actually there is a huge gamut of reasons ranging from power to “some one has to do it”. But this brings us to another and perhaps larger question and that is what are the differences between management and leadership. Even though it is generally acknowledged that there are differences between managers and leaders these differences largely remain at the intellectual level and are generally ignored as organizations strive to keep up with the current trends in management style. The old management style – that is planning and directing-- is now considered old fashioned and companies are moving to the new leadership style of inspiring and governing. This trend can be observed everywhere as organizations morph into teams and leaders replace managers and management is replaced by governance. The result is that the old and now out of style understanding of what constitutes managing an organization is disappearing as organizations meld into teams staffed by associates, team members both real and virtual and management is transformed into governance. Of course when challenged very few executives can make a clear distinction between these terms. The terms manager and leader are used interchangeably just as management and governance are used interchangeably. It appears that our corporate executives have come to believe that with the stroke of their magic administrative pen and a new magical organization chart they can transform their unwanted and outdated managers into leaders who govern the organization. It all seems so simple but alas contrary to what Shakespeare might believe there is more to it than just a name.

Those of us who must live with these changes know how it actually works. One day you are the Department Manager happy as a clam in your little bureaucratic heaven and the next day you are TRANSFORMED into the "Leader" of a new downsized, reengineered, and streamlined team, ready for action and poised to meet the future. As if by magic your department has disappeared and in its place is this newly constituted team armed with processes and acronyms prepared to battle the reactionary elements who thought things were working just fine and no change was necessary. Of course that’s because down at the worker bee level the new team looks suspiciously like the old one--except – SURPRISE -- smaller. You find that at the stroke of the pen you have been transformed from a manager of resources into a leader of men (in the generic sense of course) charged with “governance” and no longer burdened with managing people.

But as most of us have found that unlike the caterpillar who morphs into a butterfly we find that following our organizational metamorphosis very little has changed and we –alas--remain a caterpillar. True we are a smaller caterpillar but a caterpillar nonetheless. The downsizing has left us with a smaller staff, the same responsibilities but with a wonderful new title. Well -- almost the same responsibilities because as the leader you are not only expected to manage – oops – govern this team but also to be a part of the team (translation: do the work). You and the smaller staff must now do everything you did before plus work more hours to compensate for the reduced staff. Furthermore, as the new leader you are expected to lead by example, which means that you have retained all of your old duties plus taken on direct responsibilities for certain tasks formerly done by the staff, and added more hours to your work schedule. You find that you not only are doing everything you did before but you are also an active contributor with tasks of your own. Essentially as a leader in this new paradigm, management has become "an extra duty", something to be done in your spare time as a "background" activity.

This magical transformation of managers into leaders and the associated trimming of "excess" employees is then touted to the (those that are awake) board-of-directors and stockholders as an example of how the company executives are up-to-date and have the vision necessary to lead the company into the new century. They have eliminated all of those high priced middle managers and over priced workers. They have created a virtual organization staffed with enthusiastic "A" players now governed by motivated leaders. The company is now poised to meet the future head-on -- but is it really?

The problem is that changing titles and reducing staff is an age old management strategy that may have an immediate impact on the bottom line, but without a change in operational methods it is at best an organizational band-aide. What is required is fundamental structural, cultural, and philosophical change, plus an understanding of the purpose/ reason for the changes and a clear vision of the future. The new managers (leaders) must have a clear understanding of how their position has changed and what is expected of them. Without these real changes and an understanding of the impact of the changes reducing staff and changing titles are merely euphemisms and administrative exercises that may actually hurt the performance of the enterprise more than they help. Therefore, magical transformations of managers to leaders won't work and remaking an organization requires more than a changing a few names on the org-chart and some new titles.

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