Over-led and Under-managed
Last night I coached a successful leader who turned an organization around. Now he wonders if he’s the one to solve the problems success has created.
Successful leadership creates management challenges.
Successful management creates leadership challenges.
You can’t manage your way out of crisis. You can’t lead your way into stability.
Leaders disrupt. Managers stabilize.
Chaotic organizations are over-led. Stagnant organizations are over-managed. Warren Bennis put it this way, “Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led.”
Organizations swing between being over-managed and over-led. One creates the need for the other.
Over-managed organizations have systems and processes with no passion. Over-led organizations have heart with instability and chaos.
- Systems drain energy. You have three requisition forms for a box of paper clips.
- People go through the motions but have forgotten their purpose.
- Procedures turn into bureaucracy. You haven’t deleted a procedure since the Great Depression.
- No one challenges the way things are done.
- People become cogs in the machine. Everyone is lost in the weeds.
- Leaders struggle to keep all the balls in the air.
- Passion runs high. Processes run low.
- No one is really sure who does what?
- Training is learn-as-you-go. “Go figure it out.”
- Systems are the enemy. “Just do it.”
Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
The answer is who:
A collision of opposites is the answer to over-managed or over-led. Find some leaders who scare you. Hire some managers who drive you crazy.
Over-managed organizations need disruptors. Over-led organizations need system builders.
Management without leadership becomes efficient stagnation.
Leadership without management becomes inefficient chaos.
How might leaders navigate tensions between over-led and over-managed?
I’ve been a subscriber for a while. I read every article but I never comment. Today after I read this article I actually stood up and said AMEN at my desk before I forwarded this on to several of my colleagues. We have been going through this very thing for a while now and I have just about had enough of everything. It’s too many processes with no solutions and unfortunately the only people who are suffering are the ones that have to deal with these processes. I recently described this as one of those mobile sidewalks you see at the airport. We go up then we come back down it’s a never ending cycle. And to make you laugh we actually do have a SOP (standard operating procedure) to check voicemail. It’s a one button feature. You press it and bam your voicemail is played. Why did we need a SOP? The world may never know. How do you overcome something like this besides firing everyone that had a hand in making this workplace so dysfunctional?
Thanks Alicia. Your first comment is a great one!! I’m going to use the SOP for checking voicemail as an illustration.
The trouble with over-managed is we lose our passion and feel like cogs in a machine. It’s a challenging process to move toward a forward-facing, “try new things” culture.
One this is sure. If the leadership of any organization is great at managing, it will take lots of trust for them to let go of some SOP’s. It will be uncomfortable.
How might you answer real needs for process and stability AND disrupt something at the same time? 🙂
This article really struck a cord in that our team is consistently running in to these situations. It helped me identify that I over-lead to compensate for over-management in a variety of scenarios. It is challenging to grow as a team when strengths are not being effectively utilized and you constantly hit a collaborative wall. Changing your thoughts and behaviors to move past the inefficiency and frustration takes a considerable amount of patience, acceptance and self-awareness. Building a culture that has these attributes takes a tremendous amount of effort and trust. How you get there will be different for every team so a willingness to try different methods and have the groups buy in is essential. This is a long and arduous endeavor that will have many ups and downs but ultimately it is possible when everyone brings their best self to the challenge.
How might leaders navigate tensions between over-led and over-managed?
First – be observant, be honest, and take action.
I am a physician by training and therefore, observant. This sometimes annoys some people I work with because I can detect and point out the “unsightly sores”. It’s easy to look away but that won’t help anyone in the long run! Whether the problems are process issues or a generally unhappy workforce that has lost that feeling of doing purposeful, meaningful work. See it. Discuss it. But, please, address it!
Second – find balance.
This is easier said than done, but it NEEDS to be done. I agree with you 110%, Dan. You need opposites in the workplace in order to keep work moving and to keep innovating.
Thanks Dr. Pinzon. You really nailed it with, “See it. Discuss it. But, please, address it!” We never get where we want to go by burying your heads in the sand.
Creating and navigating tensions between different skills sets is an important function of leadership. Too much peace and harmony are dangerous for organizations.
should it be under lead
Thanks Sheila. I’m not sure?
Really appreciated this article. That’s one challenge of a tension you’re pointing at! Thanks for the helpful lens.
Thanks Jason. Best for the journey.
Another thoughtful examination of an important issue. All the cultural emphasis on leadership has made management seem “unsexy” and to many it it is perceived as a stodgy, grumpy artifact of a less enlightened age. But essential management tasks must be done, by somebody. It is leadership’s role to make sure management is kept in check and doesn’t become an end in itself, or cause all forward motion to cease. When I was in charge of policy development for my agency, our liability insurors strong-armed us into writing policies for many processes that a child could complete with less guidance. This resulted in a policy manual that when printed out was literally five inches thick. Talk about over-management! I always tried to apply enough “management” to establish stable ways of interacting and accomplishing routine functions, but never to create myriad “chiseled in stone” policies that were followed long after their usefulness was past. Too much management stifles leaders at all levels and turns them into mere “rule enforcers.” Great post!
Thanks Jim. It’s sad that management is unsexy, as you say. Successful organizations have great management. We should also remember that leaders manage and managers lead.
Perhaps appreciate the differences and learning when they best apply is helpful.
As you indicate, looking down on managers and management isn’t helpful.
Dan a number of books have tried to categorize or label this need for different kinds of leaders over the course of a firm’s life.
Concepts like barbarians to bureaucrats or entrepreneurs to caretakers come to mind.
Having seen and written about this, here are a couple thoughts:
In my private firm, Donn, the founder and 30 yr CEO understood this need and hired different functional leaders-sales, manufacturing etc. as the firm grew while continually stepping back himself. A hard thing to do but it worked and in the 30yrs the Company grew from zero to a billion in sales in today’s dollars.
In the public firms I was in this is much harder. The CEO tends to recommend people like himself to succeed him. Here the Board must assess the stage of corporate growth and pick someone with the skills needed at the time. This is much more work for the Board and is much less successful.
Brad James , author The Business Zoo
Thanks Brad. Love the insights and the language you bring. I find metaphors powerful.
You point out a real danger. We tend to hire ourselves – people like us.
I think that a strong leadership needs management on the team. I mean, leadership takes you to the next level, management assures you don’t turn back. Definitely strong leadership is needed, otherwise it’s a slow death…
Thanks Luis. You remind me of a leader on my team. He’s great at protecting gains. Over the years, I should have listened to him more. And of course, sometimes, he should have listened to me more.
Oooo. “slow death” thats another power-packed expression.
Very thought provoking. Thank you for the article. Any organization is going to have a little of both – finding the right balance is the challenge.
Thanks Joe. You are exactly right. How do you get people who tend to irritate each other working together for the good of an organization.
Dan, We have found putting people together as workers who don’t get along are dysfunctional and unproductive. We have found the best solution is to “divide and conquer”! I have had conversations enticing the individuals to each give a little and get the job done, sometimes this backfires too, one does everything the others does nothing! Worst case scenario is someone has to go if they can’t work together, sad but true! Sometimes you have to “shuffle the mix”!
Thanks Tim. It’s great to read you insights on this.
I think I see what you are talking about. It seems to relate more to employee relationships.
My idea is leaders who are great at leading need to get along with managers. On the other hand, managers who are great at managing, need to leverage leaders.
I think the same applies to Managers and Leaders working together for the good of the company not so much themselves! I’m sure we have to draw a line in the sand for all this to function…
Dan – this is brilliant. Once again, you have taken a concept many of us have sensed but couldn’t put our fingers on, and you have clarified it.
Thanks Jason. I guess my own confusion is useful. 😀
>> Over-managed organizations need disruptors. Over-led organizations need system builders. << I believe it's the eb and flow of these tendencies that strengthens an organization.. both voices should be heard… that there is a tension is only healthy…
So true! Thank you for posting.
Excellent insight, Dan!! I see the correlations to medicine and our healthcare system all over this post… Keeping it on hand to mull over as I engage leadership (and try to exemplify it) in the future. Thank you!
Thanks for another great article, Dan! I am struck by the role separation, leaders versus managers. An approach I strive for is situational, managing at times, leading at others. Do you believe it is too much to ask of one person to fill both roles since they call on different skills, perspectives, and world views?
This brought a smile to my face – seems to apply on a personal level also.
I have been spending too much time doing what is needed and not recognising when I have been dropping balls and have recently stepped back to see how I might manage the situation better. My mood and effectiveness have improved as a result.
I think this is a really pertinent challenge for a lot of large organizations that have up to now been very ‘manager’ and process driven. They are now facing the tough task of being more innovative and leader driven whilst trying not to confuse employees as to what on earth is happening. Those that succeed will come out of it as one united org. Those that fail will effectively split their organisation and have pockets of over managed and over-led.
Dan, thank you for this brilliant article! After 20 years of HR management including 3 years of Talent Development, your article helps me to reconcile the paradox, the dilemma: leadership versus management, like the quote of Drucker you use (and I appreciate). Thank you for saving my brain and my faith in finding a logical and holistic approach to Talent Development.