Ever notice how many books on leadership pack the business sections of most bookstores? Ironic. It seems that anyone who once held a job and owns a computer has a theory on how to effectively manage employees and has successfully sold that idea to a publisher. Ironic because most individuals receive management promotions not because of how well they lead but because of how well they follow. How can we expect followers to lead?
This is not a new concept. Dr. Lawrence Peter discussed this in The Peter Principle. The antiquated concept follows the logic that a good follower best represents a company's ideals and rules. By adhering stringently to those ideals and rules, top management can peacefully relax without worry that the person chosen might put the entire company in jeopardy by daring to "improve" upon their systems of operations. The top leaders have great reverence for those systems and the idea of anyone veering off course will likely bring about an illusion of chaos.
Do not underestimate this point. Because the illusion of chaos carries as much terror into the hearts of top management as the illusion of order brings the illusion of peace. After all, chaos and order operate continually and are only ever managed. But effective management requires effective leadership; followers are great noise makers but lousy leaders. If you're only interested in hiring competent managers, you will find individuals who will take notes, give orders and move quickly. They work to convince top management only that everything is running smoothly; but they will bury the chaos.
True leaders, on the other hand, know the system's flaws and have the integrity to point them out. They put the company's objectives first and know that every business runs the risk of failure if it doesn't keep pace with the evolution of the industry. And that's the key: each industry, each business exists in constant flux; ideas and methods become old and shopworn and need updating. Followers stick to a flawed agenda regardless of how much water the sinking company takes on. They will stick to that agenda right down to the bottom of the sea. Like Enron. Or Circuit City. Or Borders Books--who might have done well to peruse one or two of those leadership books that once packed their now emptied shelves.
Things get confusing when one gets promoted to management. Suddenly, they’re the ones in charge of channeling the company sheep into a machine of sleek and austere productivity. They are alchemists chosen for their born gifts in molding plastic junk into golden links on the production line.
Bad managers are bad because they see themselves as austere when the workers need grist. Bad managers take the word “management” and let it go to their heads. And in most, day-to-day, operational situations, that won't make much difference. But under pressure they make bad decisions. They blame others. They disappear. They almost never roll up their sleeves—unless their boss tells them to. But through it all, bad managers keep thinking of themselves as leaders.
Leadership is a zeppelin; management is a cargo jet. If you want to find a true leader, don't bank on a noise maker and don't settle for merely hiring competent managers.