UPDATE: Leadership or Management

March 12, 2021

Last year, before the pandemic was in full swing in North America, I wrote about the notion of Leadership or Management (here). In the article, I described leadership as influencing, motivating, and enabling, while management was described as controlling. So, twelve months later, what, if anything, has changed?

So many organizations have spent the last year just trying to stay afloat and simply exist. That is total management, not leadership, and there is a time and place for it in any organization. Those organizations that have re-imagined what their purpose is have flourished. Think about some of the charities that have seen a large uptick in support. They likely did not just push forward with the same plan they have had for years. Rather, they innovated and found a stronger voice to be heard.

Middle Management

People often speak of middle management. Those are the directors and managers who manage the people under their supervision. And, as we have seen in the last twelve months, those managers that have taken on leadership qualities have succeeded.

What leadership qualities, you may ask? I have had the opportunity to speak with dozens of people who supervise others. Since working from home has become more acceptable (and even encouraged in some regions), an office setting’s comradery is gone. Bouncing ideas off of each other and collaboration is more of a challenge. Many employees also fill the roles of teacher, guidance counselor, and entertainer for their school-aged children. Some employees are filling the roles of caregivers for aging parents. It is unrealistic to believe that the employees are solely dealing with your organization during work hours. Some supervisors have no idea how to lead and inspire those teams — they just try their best to manage the situation. Those supervisors who have gone the extra step by becoming a sounding board, an armchair psychologist, or have prioritized employee engagement have been the superstars of this pandemic.

Just because someone has the title of a leader (perhaps they sit on the organization’s senior leadership group) doesn’t necessarily make them a leader. As a good friend of mine used to say, “the snow will melt, and the dirt will show.” I have seen people promoted well beyond their capabilities because they had put in the “time.” Leaders have to be strategic, while managers can afford to be more tactical.

Congruency with the How vs. Why Debate

Don’t get me wrong. An organization needs both strategic thinkers and implementers of the strategy. As I have written about in numerous posts, the how should never take precedence over the why. (How someone should donate is never as important as why someone should donate.) The same is with leadership. There is no sense in having managers manage a poorly thought-out plan (or no plan at all). There must be visionaries.

As I have been writing for the last few months, this pandemic is very much like a graphite golf shaft. It amplifies everything that you do. In golf, a good swing becomes a great swing, or a badly hit ball becomes a miserably hit ball. In fundraising, those organizations that had a weak vision (or even a lack of vision) have been left scrambling and facing some awkward questions about their role in society, while those with a well-articulated vision (and have even perhaps repositioned their vision) are finding strong financial support.

Until next week. L’chaim,