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Leadership: A case for rolling up your sleeves

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Many leaders at larger companies fancy themselves too busy or important to do the messy work of managing, says Henry Mintzberg, management professor at McGill.

You’re not a leader if you’re AWOL, says the author of Managing. And while, yes, there’s a difference between leading and managing, that doesn’t preclude leaders from rolling up their sleeves and pitching in.

More often, leaders carry themselves too far above the fray.

If you’re an actual manager, what are you going to do when your “leader” says you’ve got to hit these targets, I’m not available to help, and by the way, you have to lay off a quarter of your people? You’re going to take the easy way out, that’s what.

In the financial industry, that might have meant buying subprime mortgage securities to make a quick buck for the firm.

Or if you had serious doubts about a certain corporate strategy but the “leadership” was far away, you’d clam up. Since most strategic information is transmitted informally to a CEO, that means tough luck for the chief. Leaders who don’t hang out with managers won’t get these messages.

Detached leaders can seem more caught up with public relations than with running the enterprise. But American business was not built by celebrity leaders. It was built by workers, managers and leaders who actually led.

Or, as Stanford University’s James G. March put it: “Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry.”

— Adapted from “We’re Overled and Undermanaged,” Henry Mintzberg, BusinessWeek.

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