Manager or Leader? Why most of us prefer Manager.

“A crucial difference between managers and leaders lies in the conceptions they hold, deep in their pysches, of chaos and order.

Leaders tolerate chaos and lack of structure and are thus prepared to keep answers in suspense, avoiding premature closure on important issues.

Managers seek order and control and are almost compulsively addicted to disposing of problems even before they understand their potential significance.”

Abraham Zaleznik

Abraham Zaleznik

I’m quoting Abraham Zaleznik, erstwhile Professor of Leadership at Harvard business School.  This extract is from his article “Managers and Leaders;  are they different?”, first published in 1977.

 To my eyes it could have been published yesterday, as the issues he raises are even more pertinent now than they were then.

So:  leaders are ok with chaos and managers aren’t.  An expert in-depth summary there for you -happy to oblige.

I often use Myers Briggs profiles in the Leadership programmes I run, and the question of how ok people are with lack of structure often arises when we discuss the Judging – Perceiving dimension.  The J preference is for closure, planning and orderliness, the P preference is for ambiguity, spontaneity and improvisation.

In my simplistic way I find myself thinking that Zaleznik is in effect suggesting that Managers have a Judging preference and Leaders have a Perceiving preference.

As ever, you can be an effective leader with a Judging preference, and I personally know plenty of people in that category, but it takes them more energy and feels less natural to live with ambiguity and disorder.

So as 52% of the world’s population has a Judging preference, more of us prefer to Manage than to Lead.  Probably just as well, as we can’t all be leaders.

Or can we?

I’m posing the question today as to whether you have a natural preference for J or P.  If you don’t know, might I suggest you do the Myers Briggs profile and find out?  It’s a question to which you should know the answer if you’re reading Blogs like this and trying to develop your thinking.  If you are a Leader with a Judging preference, how can you learn to become more comfortable with disorder, loose timelines, improvisation and unplanned changes?  

I want to finish with another comment from the same article, which again makes it feel as if it was written yesterday:

“Seldom do the uncertainties of potential chaos cause problems.  Instead, it is the instinctive move to impose order on potential chaos that makes trouble for organizations.”

Frau gestresst und in Panik isoliertThis resonates so well for me.  I see it so often in exercises I use with leaders on my programmes:  taking things too literally, not reading between the lines, and jumping in with both feet as soon as a problem is outlined.  Hardly any time spent exploring options, asking questions to understand the context, or agreeing how to go about things or indeed clarifying what is supposed to be achieved.

The default mindset which I see in today’s business community is:

“The sooner we start the sooner we’ll finish.”

That is a Management mindset if ever I heard one.  Execution on the plan is the top priority.  Don’t worry if the plan is flawed – as long as we’ve been seen to have done our bit, we’ll be fine.

How scary is that?

Again, what can you do to help, when everyone around you is running around in circles?  Slow it down, pause, ask a few questions, clarify.  That alone can be your leadership contribution for the day.

Please share your experience of this:  am I getting a distorted view through a training lens, or is this your reality too?

Posted in Leadership Skills, Personality types | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I bet you’re not as smart as you think you are

So you think you’re smart.  You make logical well balanced decisions, and don’t let your intuition get in the way of logic.  That’s you: business minded, professional you might say.

Yeah right.  Let’s try a little experiment.  It’s borrowed from Daniel Kahneman’s amazing book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

For this to work you will need to enlist the support of a second person.  Even then it might not – I am expanding the concept of what is possible within the Blogosphere today.  Ready:  here goes.

I’d like YOU to read this question and write down your answer.

“In a lake there is a patch of lily pads.  Every day, the patch doubles in size.  If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long does it take for the patch to cover half the lake?  24 days OR 47 days?”

lily pad

Done?  Now please ask your supporter to read the following question and write down the answer.  It is VERY important that he or she does not read the rest of this article, and that you do not give away anything about what has been in the article so far.

“In a lake there is a patch of lily pads.  Every day, the patch doubles in size.  If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long does it take for the patch to cover half the lake?  24 days OR 47 days?”

Done?  Sorry if that was a bit hard to read. It was deliberate.

According to research Kahneman refers to carried out at Princeton, 90% of people who read the first question get it wrong, as opposed to 35% who read the greyed out version.  (The answer, obviously, is 47 days.  Obviously.)

Why would this be?  It’s because the second version is harder to read, meaning you have to read it more carefully and deliberately,  This has the effect of slowing your thinking down, which makes the intuitive response of 24 days less likely to take over.

Food for thought?  This simple example captures the essence of Kahneman’s book.  The proposal is that humans make far less rational decisions than they would like to think, and that even when they are making a conscious effort to apply logic, the intuitive response (what Kahneman calls System 1) is very hard to resist.  As you read the book he packs it with examples:  “Which is a better bet, option 1 or option 2?”    You weigh it up, apply all the logic you can muster, turn the page and find out you STILL got it wrong.

If we accept that this is human nature, and there’s not an awful lot we can do about it, what are some intelligent ways to address the fundamentally bad decision making which goes on around us?

I don’t have a perfect answer, I’m sure, but here are some tactics which might work:

  • Allow more time for decisions.  Slow it down if it really matters.
  • Give people time to consider the question, and to weigh it up in their own minds before discussing it.  This is particularly appreciated by the Introverts in life.
  • Involve more people in the decision.  This at least increases the odds in your favour of logic being used somewhere along the line
  • Listen carefully to the arguments against the decision.  Summarise what you think the arguers are saying, to make sure you have understood their thinking.
  • Sleep on it.  Slower thinking sometimes kicks in overnight, as you process the decision in your subconscious.

I’ll finish today with one more example, if you like.  Same thing applies.  You answer this, then have your “helper” answer the fainter version.

“If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?  100 minutes OR 5 minutes?”


“If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?  100 minutes OR 5 minutes?”

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the answer.  Logic will no doubt prevail, won’t it?

If it’s any comfort, I got both of these wrong when I first read it.  Less comforting, to me at any rate, was that my wife got them both right.




Posted in Creativity and Innovation, Management Skills | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Just because you train it, doesn’t mean you can do it!

I have just bought a new car.  50,000 miles sooner than I expected to, but that’s another story.

As we know, car dealerships are a wonderful place for Sleazy guy with sunglassesexercising your Negotiation muscles.  I tell people this all the time, and we practice car dealer role plays on my negotiation courses.  They know all the tricks in the book, and you never need to speak to these people again, so you can play all their games with impunity.

I need to clear the air.  Ahem.

I messed up. Blew it.  An exercise in how NOT to negotiate, in fact.

I’m fine, didn’t sell a kidney or my wife to get the car, and am looking forward to taking delivery on Friday.  But I blew it nonetheless, and am now going to tell you how so you can avoid this happening to you.

My self-critique boils down to 5 giant gaffes. Here goes:

1.  I took the dog with me.  The fact that I knew Ross was in the back of the car, possibly needing a wee, put me under time pressure and made me stressed.  When we went out to look at the 2 possible cars, he set the car alarm off several times.  This stressed me even more, and the dealer knew it.  He was very nice, but he know I didn’t have the luxury of playing the hard to get game.

Lesson:  always go unaccompanied to these negotiations, and allow yourself all day to do the deal if it is important enough to you.

2.  I went for a test drive that morning.  As I was sitting opposite the salesguy, in my mind I could still feel the warmth of that heated leather seat, and the effortless way it carved through the puddles (mini lakes) and mud in our lane, like some battleship carving its way across the Atlantic.  I wanted that experience again, and it was still fresh in my memory.

Lesson:  do the fun bit separately.  Sleep on it.  Go into the negotiation ice cool and logical, where the facts can be analysed and you can think straight.

3.  I messed up my data gathering.  Even though I started my research online 2 weeks ago, somehow I never found a way of comparing like with like.  Even when I was comparing the same model, there were variants on age, mileage, specification, trim, which to be honest I couldn’t be bothered to work out.  So when I told him that another dealer had given me £1,000 off the screen price at the first time of asking, he went straight to their website, found a comparable vehicle with the one I wanted, and proved to me that the other dealer’s prices were typically £1,000 overstated.  Somehow this point had eluded me.

Lesson: do your research properly, and when you do, make sure you anticipate the comparisons your negotiator will make.

4.  I bought it on the first Saturday of the New Year.  “He” had already sold 2 cars that morning (see point 5), and by the time he had sold to me there was a queue of people wanting to talk.  People had been sitting at home over Christmas and now fancied a day out on a wet Saturday doing something exciting.  I should have waited until mid February.

Lesson: have a strategy for when to make your purchase, and if possible do so when you are of maximum importance to your opposite number.

5.  I allowed myself to get both fed up and panicked.  I wanted it all to end, as it had started before Christmas, AND the car we wanted had been sold that morning, so I allowed my wife to encourage me to get over there to see what else they had, because clearly stocks were running out fast.  When we saw a car with the exact spec we wanted, just a different colour, I saw light at the end of the tunnel and couldn’t wait to do the deal and get it all over with.

Lesson:  recognise that if you are tired or are panicking, the chances are you will do a deal which is not the best available.

Don’t get me wrong, I did get movement out of “him”, and in fact managed a bit of creativity in getting him to fit  a tow bar worth twice as much to me as the paltry discount he was offering.  So walked away with a bit of dignity at least.

All of the above are basic errors, and I deserve to be shot.  Just because you train it, doesn’t always mean you can do it.  As I often say, negotiation is a muscle, and you have to keep working out with it.  In this case my muscle, along with much of the rest of my other muscles, appears to have gone flabby over the Christmas break.

I never did tell you about why I was having to buy a new car, did I?  It was because my BMW decided to self combust on a dark night on a busy dual carriageway:  a near death experience which I might bore you with at some point.  I am now a BMW enemy for life.

Happy New Year!  I hope 2015 brings you the outcomes you deserve.  In my case, the only way is up!


Posted in Negotiations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

How not to delegate.

As Christmas approaches and stores fill up with scary amounts of extra stock that they hope will all magically vanish by Christmas Eve, I find myself thinking about the time when I was put in charge of stock ordering for a major business.  They delegated to me too soon, and I nearly brought the operation crashing to its knees.

This was a year or two afterwards.  Still smiling...

This was a year or two afterwards. Still smiling…

We’re going way back here, to my first job in business.  A fresh-faced Oxford graduate with a shiny MA in Music, I elected, not totally logically, to go into Distribution Operations when offered a graduate trainee job with a leading player in the UK drinks business.

3 months into my training programme (in those days such programmes lasted 18 months, would you believe) the stock controller for the wines and spirits side of the business went off long term sick.  Yours truly was seen by the Depot Manager (the top dog in other words) as a bit of a spare part who spent most of his time watching other people do stuff.  He wasn’t far wrong.

So he decided that I would be the best man for the job.  Michael Brown became, overnight, Wines and Spirits stock controller for a distribution operation serving thousands of pubs, clubs and restaurants.

I got told to spend half a day with the office manager, who told me what he knew, and then I was on my own.  How difficult can it be:  use this computer print out showing how much of each line sells per week, and reorder to ensure we hold enough stock to cover 4 weeks.

With little else to go on, I used this printout as my bible.  Intuition and experience didn’t come into it, as I had none.  I took things literally.

So when I read a memo (this was before email) saying all the wines and spirits shops on the patch should order their big selling wines for the Christmas period in October, I assumed they would.  Did the maths, and got it ordered.  Big mistake.  They waited until December, as they too didn’t want to have to clamber over it for 2 months.

Imagine this twice as high and floor to ceiling with boxes

Imagine this twice as high and floor to ceiling with boxes

During the following weeks truckload after truckload of the stuff started to arrive.  Pallets of wine were stacked literally to the roof.  There was so much of it they couldn’t get it into the secure area of the warehouse, and had to shove it in next to the beer barrels.  This meant the stock was no longer covered on insurance, there were health and safety risks, the lot.  I think we even had to take on extra security to guard the stuff!

Eventually when we had to start turning trucks back because we simply did not have any more room, an ashen-faced Depot Manager presented himself at my desk.  Much of his “feedback” would be unprintable, but I could summarise it as along the lines of:

“Mick, what the fecking hell do you think you are doing?”

You can imagine the rest.  The conversation concluded with me being offered further coaching and support, from someone who at last did know what he was talking about, ie the guy on the shop floor who had been there 15 years.

This was an instructive experience.  An object lesson in how not to delegate.  What are the basic errors here?

  1. Delegating too soon, where insufficient coaching had taken place
  2. Failing to establish the level of competence
  3. Not engaging in a dialogue to find out areas of concern, level of motivation etc
  4. Not monitoring and reviewing until it was too late
  5. Not having a regular feedback loop in place
  6. Assumptions
  7. Excessive risk taking

There are probably more.  At the root of this lay what I would characterise as laziness, conflict avoidance and excessive pragmatism on the part of the Depot Manager.  He went for a convenient and quick short term fix, without putting in any compensatory mechanisms.  In a way he hung me out to dry.

Fortunately I didn’t end up carrying the can for this incompetence, and I lived to tell the tale.  I went on to clock up loads more of these experiences, which is why I am such an expert incompetent.

What have been your bad experiences of delegation?

Posted in Leadership Skills, Management Skills | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

What about WHY?

I was with a group of senior leaders last week, running a Leadership workshop.  They work for a fast moving entrepreneurial IT company in California, and are going from strength to strength.  Hence the need to build some leadership muscle.

I started the day by asking them to introduce themselves, and to tell us what their PURPOSE is.  I didn’t explain the word, just left them to interpret it for themselves.

In the majority of cases (there was one notable exception), they told us WHAT they are responsible for as a means of explaining their Purpose. They gave us a brief summary of their job description, in other words.  Ask anyone in the room to repeat this on behalf of someone else, and they would all have failed.  In one ear, out of the other.

But there was one exception.  This was the Chief Finance officer:

“My job is to make Finance easy”, he said.

Got it.  Succinct, easy to remember, and most importantly it addresses the question of WHY his job exists.  A memorable and uplifting statement of Purpose, behind which his whole team is able to unite and work towards a common goal.

This simple exercise helped to diagnose the culture of that organisation.  These people are working flat out doing stuff, but have slightly have lost sight of why they do it.  And if senior leaders have lost sight of it, for sure their teams will  be beavering away wondering at times what it’s all about.

One of the key functions of a leader is to articulate a purpose for the team so that they understand where they are heading, and why they do what they do.  People look to their leaders for guidance, inspiration and direction, and to help them make some sense of the madness which is their daily job.

When a leader gets sucked into the detail and doesn’t get round to providing the WHY for people, they can be become disengaged.  Only 30% of the American workforce is Actively Engaged according to Gallup, as I mentioned in my Blog a few weeks ago.  This absence of Purpose will be a major factor, I’d say.

How would you get on giving an impromptu response to the question “What’s your Purpose?”  Might you need to sit down and have a quiet think about that one?  And once you’ve got a coherent answer, who else needs to know about it?

Don’t let yourself be pulled along be events without being very clear on WHY you do it and WHERE you are heading.

This TED talk by Simon Sinek is well worth watching to bring the subject to life.  He nails it.  I hope it gets you thinking.

Posted in Leadership Skills | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Coaching. It’s not all about YOU!

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, guys.  When you coach someone, it’s not all about YOU!

meWhat makes me say that?

I’m fresh back from running another Leadership course, where on the third day I invite folks to coach each other.

I ask them to use the simplest possible coaching framework:

1.  Create rapport

2.  Agree Objectives

3.  Listen and question.

4.  Agree next steps.

As they get into their triads (coach, “coachee”, observer) I float around and listen in.  Last time it was no different to any other.  Give business people who do not coach for a living a chance to coach, and they think that what is required of them is to provide people with answers.

With very few exceptions, they use the same coaching style:  Directing.

It doesn’t help that they also seem to find it virtually impossible to articulate an open question when they need it.

The effect is that it turns an Adult to Adult conversation into a Parent-Child transaction, in which the coachee has little ownership of the result, and ends up politely thanking the coach for their ideas at best.  It’s a missed opportunity for both parties to experience the power of helping other people to find the answers which invariably sit inside, if only someone would shut up long enough for them to be unlocked.

I so rarely hear any other of the other styles:  Enabling, Supporting, Informing, Confronting, Managing Emotions.  Why do you think this is?

I think there could be a number of reasons.  Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • That’s the way they have been coached, so they know no other way
  • They think coaches are supposed to be experts
  • They confuse Mentoring with Coaching (Mentors are further down the same road as the coachee, Coaches are on a parallel road)
  • They think coaching is on-the-job training
  • Directing is their preferred leadership style, so it feels most comfortable
  • They do not like to not know where the conversation is going, so this helps to control it
  • They are in too much of a hurry.

What’s your experience of this?  And where do you think it might come from?  I’d love to know whether I am alone in this or whether it is a widespread condition.  Please share your thoughts.


Posted in Coaching Skills, Leadership Skills | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments