Management gurus in the past such as John Kotter and Peter Drucker have spoken much of the importance of good management because when practiced well it ensures predictability and the achievement of consistent results. This steadiness of purpose creates orderliness and execution precision.
From Kotter’s perspective, management is about ensuring predictable results and leadership is about energizing people for change. Managing for predictable results requires creating quantifiable plans, organizing people into roles to carry out the plans, and catching and solving implementation problems. With leadership, energizing people for change means setting a clear, compelling direction (not necessarily easily quantifiable), getting others to buy-in and support that direction and motivating and inspiring them to achieve that direction. Quite a different set of skills required of management and of leadership.
What does this have to do with leading in today’s pandemic-driven VUCA* world?
Whenever we are dealing with unpredictability and a need to steady the ship (read in that management action: watch costs, shore up revenue, maybe even hunker down), we also need to inspire and inject hope that there is a better future ahead (read in that the need for leadership.)
James Stockdale, a naval Vice Admiral who earlier in his career was tortured as a POW in Vietnam, explained to management expert Jim Collins what is now the Stockdale Paradox: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
I cannot think of a better quote that explains the balance we need in practicing management and leadership today. Management is dealing with the brutal facts and leadership is the inspiration to prevail in the end. Dr. Collins in his book Good to Great, talks of managers having indomitable will- the energy to focus on organizational goals and also talks about level 5 leaders – those who have a sense of purpose beyond their own success. Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco says this is a time for more leadership and less management.
Given all the uncertainty as we march through 2020 here are leadership practices fit for the times:
- People don’t care about your brilliance and eloquence. They want to see how you behave as a leader. Choose candor over charisma as a McKinsey partner recommends.
- The CEO of Best Buy practiced this: What are your top strategic priorities? Then make small plans and decisions that can be amended or reversed. What needs to be done next week, next month. It’s important to keep moving as it is easier to steer a ship once it is in motion.
- Be incremental: The CEO of AirBnB as a response to the pandemic decimating his business said: Every day, find a little money, save a little money, make a little money.
- Be a little less sentimental of processes: The CEO of MetLife said that breaking some attachments with the way things were done when they hadn’t worked well has helped his organization move forward.
- Be adaptable: Have the propensity to learn. Be flexible and agile as a retail CEO suggests.
- Communicate more than you thought possible and do it authentically and vulnerably and not with information-heavy emails. Bring your cats to a meeting! (As the McKinsey executive did.)
And finally, keep your employees front and center – trust, compassion, psychological stability (resilience), hope. When we eventually get to a full-on restart they will be there for you more than you could have imagined.
* VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It describes the situation of constant, unpredictable change that now appears to be the norm.