Good manager, bad leader

Here’s a mega quote from the book First, Break All The Rules (emphasis mine). It’s worth it, I promise.

The most important difference between a great manager and a great leader is one of focus. Great managers look inward. They look inside the company, into each individual, into the differences in style, goals, needs, and motivation of each person. These differences are small, subtle, but great managers need to pay attention to them. These subtle differences guide them toward the right way to release each person’s unique talents into performance.

Great leaders, by contrast, look outward. They look out at the competition, out at the future, out at alternative routes forward. They focus on broad patterns, finding connections, cracks, and then press home their advantage where the resistance is weakest. They must be visionaries, strategic thinkers, activators. When played well, this is, without doubt, a critical role. But it doesn’t have much to do with the challenge of turning one individual’s talents into performance.

Great managers are not mini-executives waiting for leadership to be thrust upon them. Great leaders are not simply managers who have developed sophistication. The core activities of a manager and a leader are simply different. It is entirely possible for a person to be a brilliant manager and a terrible leader. But it is just as possible for a person to excel as a leader and fail as a manager. And, of course, a few exceptionally talented individuals excel at both.

If companies confuse the two roles by expecting every manager to be a leader, or if they define “leader” as simply a more advanced form of “manager,” then the all-important “catalyst” role will soon be undervalued, poorly understood, and poorly played. Gradually the company will fall apart.

I always knew that a good leader could be a bad manager. I’ve worked with a few of them: future-thinking visionaries who I’d follow anywhere, but I’d quit if any of them became my manager.

But it never occurred to me that a good manager could be a bad leader. And I can’t stop wondering if that’s me. I wouldn’t call myself a “visionary” or a “strategic thinker” or an “activator”. And according to the book, that’s fine. Most people excel in one or the other, not both. But it feels like such a disappointment.

In an effort to give myself the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if that’s because I’ve never been paid to build anything that I was personally excited about. I’ve built stuff for sports leagues (I don’t care about sports), banks (I don’t care about banks), healthcare companies (lol), waste management corporations (LOL), etc. I’ve never been paid to build anything I was passionate about.

Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points

Kevin Kelly

Is passion for the problem space a requirement for good leadership? Or maybe the thing that makes a leader good is the ability to tap into passion on demand?

If anyone has thoughts on this, email me.


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