Saturday, October 5, 2013

Steve Jobs an Interesting Mix of "Leader" and "Manager"

The terms “leader” and “manager,” like the terms “leadership” and “management,” often are used interchangeably, and should not be, as they are very different things. They might even be incompatible.

The classic example is combat leadership in a small team and bureaucratic management of the whole army, navy or air force. In combat, leadership is not so much exercised by the leader as assented to by the followers. In other words, you might say leaders are made by their followers.

Managers and executives, on the other hand, never are really made by their followers. They hold positions or offices that confer authority. Bureaucratic authority, the holding of an office, is not the same thing as leadership.

Since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, many have wondered whether Apple could sustain its rate of innovation and creativity without what some would say was Jobs as leader, not manager.

Most would likely agree that Steve Jobs was inspirational and capable of inspiring followers, without being in the classic sense a good manager. In fact, everybody would agree that Jobs was an incredibly poor manager of people, in a traditional sense.

That leads some to create false dichotomies between leadership and management. Find a large enterprise that is poorly managed and you will find a company in financial trouble. But “great” companies, though depending on good management, also tend to have some larger element of leadership as well.

The somewhat related tension between company founders and later managers is similar. Both leadership and management play some roles, sometimes at different stages of a firm’s life cycle or within different units of an organization. If possible, many would say a good leader and manager is the best of all possible worlds, if somewhat rare.

Some might even say Apple succeeded despite some management weaknesses on Jobs’ part.

With the caveat that the balance could well be different in a fast-moving Internet business compared to a factory, a classic statement might be that “the manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.”

Management professor Warren Bennis has written that:
– The manager administers; the leader innovates.
– The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
– The manager maintains; the leader develops.
– The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
– The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
– The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
– The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
– The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
– The manager imitates; the leader originates.
– The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
– The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
– The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

It’s great set of comparisons. And like all good generalizations, the balance in the real world will be more fuzzy. But most observers might agree that, taking all the comparisons into account, Steve Jobs was an interesting mix of those traits.

Some of the secrecy, control and obsession with detail might mark those elements of the Jobs style that were not so visionary, and more managerial. Nor did Jobs ever ignore the practical, detailed parts of product development for long-term vision.

Still, on balance, Jobs tips the scale more on the “leader” then “manager” parts of those examples. Nor could most large enterprises survive and thrive without good management. But people tend to recognize “leadership” when they encounter it.

It is possible to argue that companies need much better leadership without dismissing the equal need for good management.

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