In today’s leadership culture, when we want to put down leaders, we simply call them managers. Often, we follow it with our favorite “leader versus manager” sayings. For example:
- “Managers generate fear, leaders inspire enthusiasm.”
- “Managers place blame, leaders fix the problem.”
First, we do this primarily because we have a high view of leadership. When there’s poor leadership in place we don’t want to call it leadership. So, our high view of leadership struggles to use the term leader. Ironically this is a good thing. We need to have a high view of leadership, and those in leadership should be of high moral character.
Second, we have a low view of people who don’t lead well. Bad leaders tend to make big messes. They destroy lives, reputations, careers, drive out good leaders, create bad cultures, and operate on program instead of principle. Because we don’t want to call them leaders, we need to have a term for these people.
Somewhere along the way, someone picked the word manager and started using it in a negative context, and the snowball started rolling. And it’s the “in thing” to use the word manager.
We get a lot of “leader versus manager” nonsense, and now a great word and essential aspect of leadership is getting a bad reputation.
There are very few coaches that rise to the level of John Wooden. His reputation as a coach, leader, and shaper of men is impressive. Yet he scripted every practice right down to the minute. He even wrote a plan for every practice on 3×5 cards. When working on a drill for two minutes (it was no more and no less) he used a stopwatch hung around his neck to ensure it. Wooden followed the plan righteously.
He made his players tie their shoes in a precise way. If they didn’t follow his way, he wouldn’t let them on the floor. He had a lot of rules and enforced them rigidly. There are numerous books written about the “leadership” of John Wooden. Most of his “leadership” is best described by the word manager, yet he was one of the winningest coaches in history. Even more importantly, he was an incredible leader of men. He changed their lives and he taught them to be both men and leaders. His leadership example – impact on his school, college basketball, sports in general, and millions of people – has become legendary.
John Maxwell tells of the life-changing privilege of being mentored by John Wooden. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a whole book about Coach Wooden. He loved and respected Coach Wooden more than any other male figure in his life and considered him a surrogate father. Kareem arranged his life so he could be at Wooden’s side the day he died. Thousands of people came for his memorial service.
But it wasn’t just Wooden’s leadership that won games or made him a leader, it was primarily his management.
Think about this with me:
- When John Wooden made his players re-tie their shoes when they were tied incorrectly, was he a leader or manager?
- When John Wooden forced his players to follow the 3.5 card practice plan right down to the minute, was he a leader or manager?
- When the team won game after game, season after season, championship after championship, was it the manager or leader that produced the results?
- Was it Wooden’s leadership or management that made the team successful and him a great leader?
- If I have the vision for where to point the ship, but can’t get us to our destination, am I a leader?
- If I am the leader but can’t get your paycheck right, will you see me as a leader?
- If I have a big, hairy, audacious goal that has the potential for making millions but can’t make it happen, am I a leader?
- When President Bush awarded John Wooden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was it because of his management or leadership?
- Every year the UCLA Anderson School of Management has a huge event called the John Wooden Global Leadership Awards, where they honor great leaders. Did John Wooden get the honor of having this event named after him because of his leadership or management?
Leadership and management are two sides of the same coin. Both are important, and great leaders need both.
I believe there is a test to measure the depth of one’s leadership knowledge, understanding, and philosophy. It can be found in how one uses the words manager and management. These words are very critical elements of leadership, so to use them disparaging exposes a weakness in one’s understanding of good leadership.
But now we have a problem. If we can’t use manager or management, what word can we use for bad leaders?
All of us hate bureaucracy and the bureaucrats that run them. Those two words have a history of referring to those with poor leadership and management. So, from this point forward, let’s call it what it is, bureaucracy or bureaucrat!
“No one loves a bureaucracy, and no one aspires to be a nameless, faceless bureaucrat. Somehow, even as the modern ideal of leadership was being developed in recent decades, management was disparaged.” – Al Mohler
The next time you’re tempted to put down the word manager, DON’T! Leadership without management isn’t leadership, and management without leadership is bureaucracy.
Wooden On Leadership
Where Great Leaders Are Grown