Let's Get Rid Of Management

Just one sleepless night on my new $1500 sofa bed purchased for my then getaway lake house was way too much. The sales person neglected to tell me that the pull out sofa bed had a pretend mattress guaranteed to give you a morning backache, even after a night of hard partying.

So, I elected to call the furniture store to purchase an upgrade mattress. I collided with Mr. Rules ‘R Us. The sales person was not happy that I was even suggesting this product was less than satisfactory.

“An upgrade double-sized mattress will cost you $250,” he staunchly asserted as though reciting the penalty for landing on his part of the Monopoly board. He also informed me that the pretend mattress that came with the sofa could not be returned nor would there be a credit. He curtly labeled the mattress soiled.

I agreed to dispose of the inferior mattress and go forward with the purchase of an upgrade. Then came another rule. There would be no free delivery of the upgrade mattress. I would have to pick it up at the furniture store. Mattresses do not fold up to be neatly transported in the back seat of a car.

A friend with a truck and a half-day off came to my rescue. With prior agreement from the furniture store, I mailed a check for the amount I was told to pay - $267.50 - so my friend could pick up and transport the new mattress to my lake house thirty minutes away. No one called later to learn if the new mattress worked better.

Two weeks later, I received a bill for two dollars and fifty cents with a note from Mr. Rules ’R Us: “You failed to pay the proper amount of tax on the upgraded mattress. Remit immediately so we can balance our books.”

I called the store manager. He silently listened to my entire story and at the end of my saga flatly said: “The salesman was following the rules. You will have to pay the bill.” Guess where I did not buy the bedroom suite and patio furniture for my next home.

Management is about the administration of stuff. Managers plan, organize, staff, and control. Managers ensure rules and policies are followed. They worry about the efficiency of the organization and the quality of its output. They tend to be cautious and careful. They oversee compliance with form, focusing on budgets and/or bottom line. They preach the sermon of doing things right, as in correct. All these are valuable functions necessary for the well being of an organization, particularly in today’s rule-constrained business landscape.

Leadership is about the influence of people. Leaders inspire, encourage, coach, mentor, empower, and discipline. They worry about the effectiveness of the organization and character of those who guide its direction. They pay attention to vision, values and the productivity and well being of associates. They preach the sermon of doing things right, as in consistent with values, and doing the right thing. Integrity always trumps greed. Great leaders tend to be courageous and compassionate.

Now, before you critique my uproar of absolutes and extol me for painting a picture of either-or, let me state again that organizational success requires both efficiency and effectiveness; management-thinking and leadership-thinking. Successful CEO’s find ways to instill the proper blend of wise caution with courageous risk-taking; consistency-producing standards along side an entrepreneurial spirit. However, when the pendulum heavily favors management thinking, the enterprise yields far too many employees like Mr. Rules 'R Us.

“There is a good way to tell if a company is run by a manager or by a leader,” a friend once told me. “Just examine if crucial decisions are made by someone in a line unit or a staff unit.” That might be overly simplistic; we clearly need staff or support units. But the crux of his diagnostic was whether crucial calls required forward-thinking courage or simply follow-the-rule compliance. Are pioneers revered more than policy wonks? Would the people who live inside the organization characterize it as a bold enterprise or a bureaucratic one? Would customers view the organization as customer-centric or bottom line-centric?

John Ellis in his article Strategy in Fast Company wrote:

“Here’s what real business leaders do. They go out and rally the troops, plant the flag, and make a stand. They confront hostile audiences and they deal with the press. If the issue is confidence, they conduct themselves confidently. If the issue is trust, they make their company’s business transparent. If the issue is character, they tell the truth. They do not shirk responsibility; they assume command. Because a fundamental ingredient of business success is leadership. And the granular stuff of leadership is courage, conviction, and character.”

The title of this piece was purposefully overstated to make a plea for more leaders. It was also the title of a poem by Barry Wishner. Managers count value; leaders create value. Managers have subordinates; leaders have followers.

Leaders at the core of an organization nurture spirit and encourage determination. They elevate the power of people over the efficiency of procedure. They return us to the soul of commerce and remind us of the virtue of contribution.

Leaders are the engines of enduring living companies, not just those that survive until they are purchased. They kindle purpose and awaken passion.