Lead Me – Don’t Manage Me!


“People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. Whoever heard of a world manager? World leader, yes. Educational leader. Political leader. Religious leader. Community leader. Labor leader. Business leader. They lead. They don’t manage. The carrot always wins over the stick. Ask your horse. You can lead your horse to water but you can’t manage him to drink. If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself. Do that well and you’ll be read to stop managing. And start leading.”

-Printed by United Technologies Corporation in the Wall Street Journal

One of the most heated conversations we had in the MBA program at Elon (ranked #1 part-time program in the USA) was over the value of management versus leadership. One of our courses was in organizational leadership and many of the younger students did not enjoy the finesse and nuances of the subject matter. They wanted to stay in the realm of concrete, numbers driven topics wherein there is a clear cut “right” answer. Leadership, for people who have not held positions with substantial responsibility, is challenging to describe, pursue, evaluate, and articulate. Management, on the other hand, was easier for the cohort to articulate in terms of metrics and definitions that met with consensus.

Whether in class or on the job, very few people want to be managed per se, they would prefer to be led. Managing is a process better applied to resources rather than individual people. Even in our home lives, when we are trying to get our children to do the right thing, it is incumbent upon us as parents to inspire them to make good choices. Inspiration is one of the key results of leadership.

Cynthia Stewart, writing for the Lead Change Group’s website last week, made some keen observations about the dichotomy between management and leadership:

“One specific example of what I am talking about comes to mind that illustrates this perfectly.  In fact, I was speaking with a President of a company today and she mentioned the same example.  Most of us have been part of a United Way campaign.  In the early days, these campaigns were delegated to management to run.  Typically management would take the tact of talking to their employees about the importance of being a good citizen and helping to fund helping agencies so their patrons could have a hand up (effectively trying not to appear to strong arm you into giving so that the company goals could be met.)

Then, one year things changed.  The leaders asked for employee volunteers to lead the campaigns. Everyone couldn’t wait to show up to the next new event, and attendance and giving doubled and tripled.  You saw people showing their true talents, coming alive, doing things you had no idea they could do.  The fun quotient spiked, the giving exceeded goals, employee morale improved, and the new office stories were accompanied with more laughter.   Hmmm – no management in the picture.”

Stewart’s commentary reveals a gap in thought leadership. Many Millenials are misunderstood because Boomers think that they are too revolutionary and almost insubordinate. That’s because many in management are not leading them; they are trying to only tell them what to do. My experience with the younger generation is that they are in search of authentic leadership.

How can we individually and collectively make a commitment to leadership?



2 thoughts on “Lead Me – Don’t Manage Me!

  1. This is a great point between the important differentiation between management and leadership. I believe that some of the bosses I enjoyed worked under most were leaders not managers. They created a positive environment where we wanted to do our best work because it was contributing to a clearly defined goal.

  2. Both managing & leading are needed for organizations to “succeed”. Problems arise from confusing the two words. Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper said, “We manage things; we LEAD people.” Simple, so why all the confusion? Here are three paradigms to be shifted:
    1, Managing means measuring outcomes & times: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.”
    2, Processes – NOT people – produce outcomes: think about that…
    3, These processes are what need to be managed: the people are crying out to be LED.

    Needless to say, there’s more to be done than shifting three paradigms. E.g.:- Control is all about processes, NOT about people. Improvement is the goal, NOT achievement. Focus on real-world tactics, NOT on imagined-world strategy. We all work for our customers, NOT for our bosses. [Truth be known, our bosses work for US!] Money’s an hygienic factor, NOT a motivating factor. [Bonuses do much more harm than good: witness the recent sub-prime mortgage fiasco, not to mention the ongoing UNCONTROLLED business cycles.]

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