Doing is as Important as Leading

01.23.19

“Managers who don’t lead are quite discouraging, but leaders who don’t manage don’t know what’s going on. It’s a phony separation that people are making between the two.”
-Henry Mintzberg, leading management thinker, author and Canadian academic

It seems nearly impossible lately to have a day pass without being bombarded with books, articles, LinkedIn or Instagram posts, or tweets (just to name a few) sharing the latest theory, perspective, great read or conference about leadership. On top of that, advertisements promoting the next in an unending lineup of leadership award events, which tend to be corporate and organizational features marketing their next and best leaders (usually tied to recruitment or sales campaigns). And of course, my personal favourite, the “everyone is a leader” and “unlock your leader within” mantras. Ugh.

Now don’t get me wrong, leadership is a vital component of team and organizational success. Throughout history there are endless examples of effective and courageous leaders and what their actions meant to those who looked to them for direction. In my 38-year career, I have had the privilege of working for some amazing leaders and for most of that career, have been in a leadership position of various kinds myself (teams, divisions, companies, Boards, etc.). I currently earn my living coaching, advising and supporting leaders and teams, so I understand and appreciate how much ‘good leadership’ matters and I absolutely love what I get to do every day! I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a very good leader, and at certain times in my career, I’ve been a pretty lousy one too. Leadership and all that comes with it can cut both ways, as they say.

It feels to me as though there is way too much focus on trying to make everyone a leader and, in my humble opinion, not enough emphasis and effort on how to get things done consistently and properly. Too much time thinking about being in charge vs. what’s required to manage and execute well. I’ve shared with audiences that I really think there should be a degree in ‘GSD’. Yes, you guessed it- Getting S*&t Done! Not to mention the fact that not everyone wants to be a leader and whether we like it or not, that not everyone is meant to be a leader, despite all the fashionable mantras out there to the contrary. We seem to be overlooking the fact that competent and effective leaders don’t get much done (or win awards), without very committed and skilled doers and followers.

This is perhaps a rather contrarian view to put forward in a blog on leadership. It almost feels like a ‘Rick Mercer rant’ minus the alley and graffiti. (My apologies Mr. Mercer.) My point is that I believe we need to spend more time talking about people and teams doing great work, how we choose to show up and excel at what we do, and less time talking, promoting and awarding only the leaders. Leaders without talented and committed followers and doers, (the people who actually make s*&t happen), are really not leaders at all.

Ian