Manage Stuff. Lead People.
Managers are one of the core Business Diseases of the Industrial Age. They are a sacred cow that have only been around for a little over a century, but should go away as quickly as possible. Few things are as disruptive, unhelpful, and unproductive in the workplace as managers.
Solve and Decide, Or Become Less Important?
The manager’s worst habits are to a) solve things and b) decide things. No other actions are as debilitating as solving and deciding for others. When a manager solves and decides, the only thing left is to delegate tasks to be executed – “put this nut on that bolt, at this rate”. But when we delegate tasks, people feel used. Managers who solve and decide things are fundamental in the dehumanizing of the workplace, because tasks are for machines.
Leaders do it quite differently. They train others to solve problems and make decisions, and then they get out of the way. If you’re becoming less and less important in your position, you’re leading.
The Best Business Leader Makes The Fewest Decisions
The art of traditional management involves planning, organizing, staffing, controlling, and awful assumptions like “manipulating human capital.” In the management model, people are “capital” to be manipulated and controlled.
In contrast, the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.
Ricardo Semler, the architect behind Semco, an $800 million Brazilian Participation Age company (with no managers), just celebrated his 10th anniversary of not making a decision. That is tremendous leadership, and we should all aspire to it by training others to “solve and decide” and then, by getting out their way.
It works because Semler and other Semco leaders have trained others to solve problems and make decisions. Having gotten out of the way, the leaders are now free to ask questions, review, assess, and think about the future. If you’re making decisions for others, you’re managing. If you’re just asking questions, you’re leading.
What Are You Delegating; Tasks or Responsibility?
We said earlier that when managers delegate tasks (“put this nut on that bolt”), people feel used, because tasks are for machines. But leaders delegate responsibility (“make a great product”) – a much broader thing that requires thinking, solving, and deciding. When given responsibility, people take ownership, and ownership is the most powerful motivator in business. Are you delegating tasks that simply require action, or responsibility, which requires the whole messy, creative person to show up?
Management Is Not Leadership
Management is a very recently invented construct, but leadership has been around for centuries. We’ve conflated the two. Here’s a simple reference for pulling them back apart.
Manage Stuff, Lead People
The fundamental flaw in the “manager as a solution” mindset is that people need to be managed. They don’t. They need to be led, and the difference is not semantic, it is gigantic.
Stuff needs to be managed. People don’t. The Factory System reinvented people as extensions of machines, and when people are extensions of machines, they are “stuff” to be managed. But if they are fully human, they require leadership instead.
In our company, we only manage stuff; paper, numbers, software, processes, systems, delivery of goods and services, accounting, marketing, sales, etc. These are all “things” to be managed, and everyone in the business manages stuff. But we don’t need someone with the title of “manager” to hover over any of us to ensure the stuff will get managed. People manage the stuff, and we lead the people by vision, guidance, training and support, and then most importantly, by getting out of the way.
The manager’s quest is to be as helpful as possible for as long as possible. The leader’s quest is to relentlessly train others to solve and decide, and become less important every day.
It’s important enough to say twice: the art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.