Are you leading or managing? Know the difference between the two – and avoid these four leadership traps.
Crises require both management and leadership – but there’s a difference between the two. Managers address the urgent needs of the present, while leaders must focus on the future.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Eric J McNulty and Leonard Marcus say that most crises are over-managed and under-led. They set out four leadership traps to avoid.
1) Taking a narrow view. The human brain is programmed to narrow its focus in the face of a threat. Pull back to take in the mid-ground and background. This is meta-leadership – taking a broad, holistic view of both challenges and opportunities. Properly focused meta-leadership fosters well-directed management.
US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Neffenger, deputy national incident commander during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, discovered that his most pressing job wasn’t managing the response to the spill itself: it was leading through the political implications.
2) Getting seduced by managing. If you’ve risen up through an organisation, the trap is that you’re often returning to your operational comfort zone. Your adrenaline spikes as decisions are made and actions are taken.
Resist the urge to take over. Leading through a crisis requires taking the long view, rather than managing the present. Anticipate what comes next week, next month – even next year – to prepare for the changes ahead. Delegate and trust your people as they make decisions, providing support and guidance based on your experience.
3) Over-centralising the response. Risk and ambiguity increase during a crisis because so much is uncertain. The trap is trying to control everything. Suddenly, you’ve created new layers of approval for minor decisions. The organisation becomes less responsive and frustration grows with each new constraint.
Seek order rather than control. Order means that people know what’s expected of them and what they can expect of others. Acknowledge that you can’t control everything. Determine which decisions only you can make and delegate the rest. Establish clear guiding values and principles while foregoing the temptation to do everything yourself.
4) Forgetting the human factors. Crises are crises because they affect people. However, you can become trapped by focusing on the daily metrics of share price, revenue and costs. These are important, but they are the outcome of the coordinated efforts of people.
Unite people in their efforts and goals as valued members of a cohesive team. This starts with a common, clearly articulated mission that infuses the work with purpose. The mission is then animated through an inclusive leadership approach where each person understands how they can contribute – and that their contribution is recognised. This gives meaning to even menial tasks.
Leadership and management are two circles in a Venn diagram. At the moment crisis strikes, the two circles largely overlap. As the event unfolds over time, the two activities move apart. In a crisis, ensure that someone else is managing the present while focusing your attention on leading towards a better future.