Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, put it this way: “Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes...the ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Jobs knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t manage Apple; he leads it. He’s one of the crazy ones. He’s a leader.
It will always be easier to snark and ridicule leaders more than managers. Why? Because they make more unforced errors. Why? Because they are playing a tougher game than managers play. Why? Because of all people, leaders are, as Peter Block once said, “burdened with an act of creation.” Managers are burdened with an act of maintenance.
Can you be a manager and not a leader? Yes, and every organization needs great managers. Managers run things. But leaders create the things they run. If you lack management skills, you can surround yourself with strong managers and still be successful. Does the principle work in reverse? Can you put a great manager at the helm, surround him or her with great leaders and pull it off? Never. Leaders can compensate for their management deficiencies. Managers cannot compensate for their leadership deficiencies.
Hugh Nibley observed, “Leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, full of surprises that discomfit the enemy in war and the main office in peace. For the managers are safe, conservative, predictable, conforming organization men [and women] and team players, dedicated to the establishment.”
The distinction is overstated, of course. The real world doesn’t allow such a tidy division of labor. You have to do both. But the thrust, attitude and psychology of leadership is different. Leaders strap the future on their backs. Managers don’t.
Can you learn to be a leader? Much of it can be learned. But some of it can’t be taught. How can I teach you more tolerance for ambiguity and risk? How can I teach you to challenge conventional wisdom? How can I give you the makeup and disposition to push boundaries and thinking? How can I convince you that it’s time to create a disturbance in your organization because people are under the false assumption that the organization competes on a global standard? How do you know when you’re stretching people appropriately or just being a jerk? I can teach you principles. I can give you tools. We can go through some case studies. But that’s as far as I can go. You take it from here.
Leaders are paid to maintain competitive advantage. It’s their job to hold court with the status quo and overthrow it when necessary. Managers preserve. Leaders disturb. Managers follow the script. Leaders write the script. Managers deal with facts. Leaders deal with possibilities. Managers create value today. Leaders create value tomorrow. Managers can run things on the compliance of other people. Leaders can only run things on the commitment of other people. If not, they cease to lead.
On Feb. 11, 1861, a tall, gangly man in a coat and top hat turned to the townspeople of Springfield, Ill., before boarding a train that would take him to Washington D.C. where he would assume the presidency of the United States.
With a trembling voice he said, “Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. Trusting in him, who can go with me, and remain with you and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To his care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
Lincoln was not leaving to manage the country. He was leaving to lead it.
Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D., is an author, international management consultant, former two-time CEO, Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University and Academic all-American football player at BYU. His latest two books are "The Leadership Test" and "Epic Change." E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org