Archive for March, 2011

This is not a role model in the typical sense of the word.  That is, it’s not about a person who serves as an example of the values, attitudes, and behaviors associated with an organization.  This is a model that can be used to explain all the various roles within an organization.

Over time, we have realized that a bit of confusion has been created between the concepts of leader and manager. I myself, contributed to this confusion in 2001 when I facilitated a group of thirteen Directors through a process to design a training program for new managers. The final name of the program – Leadership Journey for New Managers!

The following is a simplified model that can be used to understand and differentiate between the responsibilities of any role.

There are three basic components. Each one is performed to a different degree based on the requirements of the job. For example, a self-employed person who has a small business needs to balance all three out of necessity.  The owner, who is too focused on doing the work (technician), may find that managing (operational) and working on the business (strategic) suffer.

In larger organizations, it is easier to differentiate.  The primary responsibility of the individual who does the work is “technician.”  The main responsibility of the person who plans, monitors, and coordinates the work is “manager.” And the responsibility of setting direction with strategic thinking and planning, is the priority of the “leader,” also commonly referred to as Executive .

When you determine the degree of each responsibility for each position, it is easier to determine the training and development needs for both current and future positions.  Remember, every position uses a combination of all three roles to varying degrees.

Role Responsibility Primary Development
Technician Tactical Technical training
Manager Operational Project & people management
Leader Strategic Strategic thinking, planning, and execution

Is the Peter Principle alive and well? This is a tangential topic but one worth discussing here.  Actually I would argue that each person does not rise to their level of incompetency, they are promoted by others to that level – a small but significant difference.  The reason is that most decisions for advancement are backward looking.  The philosophy that a person must do well or exceed in the current position in order to move to higher position is well intentioned but somewhat misguided.

In sports, a great athlete doesn’t necessarily make a great coach. A great coach doesn’t necessarily make a great general manager, and so on.  There are numerous examples of high performing individuals being promoted to the manager level only to falter because what made them great (technician) is no longer as important a skill.  It may even be a derailer.

Missed opportunity? On the flip side, an employee may have a broad conceptual thinking style and excel at strategic thinking.   If they enter the organization in a “technician” role that requires narrow focused attention for tactical execution, chances for success are slim.  In this scenario, both the employee and company lose.

Incite: Are you clear on the responsibilities associated with the various roles within your organization? When considering someone for a position of greater responsibility, let’s change that to a position that requires a different set of skills and even thinking style, do you focus more on past performance or future fit?   The key to successful hiring, placement, and promotion are your selection, development, and advancement systems.


The “elephant in the room” is a common expression used in organizations for an obvious issue that is being ignored and going unaddressed. The reference to elephant suggests that the issue would normally be impossible to overlook.  Some people even add the color pink to emphasize its obviousness. Those who pretend that the elephant is not there tend to deal with smaller or less relevant issues.  So the question is why. Note: Some people mistakenly use the expression “white elephant;” it has a totally different meaning.

There are number of potential reasons. One is that the issue is so large, overwhelming, or complicated, that no one wants to try to deal with it.  Or, the problem may be associated with bad news, and few people want to be the bearer. Bad news is associated with negative emotions, and we know that negative emotions are associated with the messenger, even if not consciously.

That’s why sayings like “don’t kill the messenger,” “don’t stir the pot,” and “don’t be a trouble maker” have been around for so long.  This poster contains one of my favorites – it’s an old Moroccan saying.

So how do you deal with an elephant in the room? I would love to say I have the perfect answer. Actually I would like to say I have a good answer. Unfortunately, organizations and the environments in which they exist are so complex that it is difficult for me to provide any answer in which I would have great confidence.

The basic approach however is 1) name/acknowledge; 2) address/confront, and 3) solve/overcome.

Even after calling attention to an issue, there is no guarantee that it will be addressed, let alone solved, especially if it’s a complex issue with no easy answer.  There’s a reason it became an elephant in the first place. At least by talking about it, you have taken the first step –  better you than the elephant.

Incite: What elephants exist in your organization? Is it okay, even encouraged to talk about them?  If not, what can you do to make it okay?  What method do you use to address them?

Because I have been thinking and writing recently about the difference between managers and leaders, I thought this data-driven list from Google, in the March 13, 2011 New York Times, would be interesting.

Incite: Have you or others in your company thought enough about how to manage effectively to come up with your own rules?

In the last episode, Peter Drucker had just read Kyropaidaia and declared it to be the best book ever written on leadership.  Within a few years Drucker writes his fifth book, The Practice of Management, (1954).  Within the book he writes about Xenophon, his books, and leadership principles (pages 2, 5, 117-118, 121–131)

Incite: I believe this was the beginning of the blurring of the lines between management and leadership.

In his thirteenth book, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, p. 325, (1973), Drucker writes “that in modern society there is no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will.”

Peter Drucker never wrote a book specifically dedicated to leadership, however, a wealth of information about leadership can be found dispersed throughout his 39 books and hundreds of articles.  In fact, there is so much information, in 2010, William A. Cohen wrote “Drucker on Leadership.”  Cohen explains that Drucker was ambivalent about leadership for much of his career, making it clear that leadership was not by itself “good or desirable.” While he struggled with the concept of leadership, he was aware that it had a critical impact on the accomplishment of all projects and human endeavors.

Incite: I believe that Drucker’s ambivalence and struggle with the concept of leadership was why he imbedded the principles within the overarching concept of management.

As new management and leadership “gurus” emerged on the scene, Peter Drucker shifted his attention to the social sector.  In 1990, the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management was founded and he was named the Honorary Chairman. In January 2003, the Drucker Foundation celebrated the great contribution of Peter Drucker and renamed the organization the Leader to Leader Institute! (Exclamation point added).

Okay, so how did leader become a job title? In summary, I believe Peter Drucker was primarily responsible for blurring the boundaries between the concepts of leader, manager, supervisor, etc. The result was that the terms started to be used somewhat synonymously. Somewhere around the late 90’s, early 2000’s, in an attempt to emphasize leadership responsibilities, and help people feel better about their jobs, organizations began adding leader to job titles.

Do a search on a popular job search site like and look for “leader” in job title only – my search came back with over 30,000 jobs. I realize many of those are duplicates, but still, that’s a lot of “leaders.”

Incite: Regardless of the synonymous use of leader and other manager type descriptors, there is a distinct difference between them – more about that later.