I was scanning Twitter this past week and I came across these great tweets by Michael Seibel at Y Combinator.
When I was young I thought management was about distribution/delegation of responsibilities. I now realize it is truly about the maintenance of morale and motivation. Morale and motivation are moving targets that require consistent and proactive effort to maintain.-- Michael Seibel (@mwseibel) February 15, 2019
People talk about 10x engineers a lot (and they should - they are extremely valuable). They don't talk enough about 10x leaders. Leaders who can get 10x more out of the people they work with over time. That is truly an amazing skill and much more rare than a 10x engineer.-- Michael Seibel (@mwseibel) February 15, 2019
These tweets immediately resonated. In our daily jobs we spend a lot of time thinking about "management" and not enough time thinking about "leadership." We all have sh*t to get done so the immediate focus often turns to the tasks at hand and how we're going to best complete them.
In a way I think Michael's tweets resonated so much because they are both correct -- management is about distribution/delegation of responsibilities. But leadership is something entirely different and recognizing this is the key to a great team's success.
I made a small chart to divide where I see the differences.
Management is about overseeing a group of individuals to complete a shared objective. A manager must define the goals of a project, break it up into tasks, assign out responsibilities, measure individual and group progress, and constantly control the scope of the project in order to complete a work stream that can be called "complete."
As we all know, if you don't have strong management you get delays in projects due to either scope creep or lack of focus in completing or prioritizing the right tasks. If you don't have strong management, you may complete a project but it may suffer from poor quality. With bad management, you may even complete a project to satisfaction and on time only to find out that team members quit due to being burned out.
Having great managers is critical to any team's success. There are people who are very good at management. They tend to be "completer/finishers" who are process-driven and are very good and making sure tasks are done well and loose ends are tied up.
Sometimes these managers are great leaders and sometimes they are not. Managers don't necessarily need to be great leaders in order to be effective at their jobs and we shouldn't feel the need to force managers to be great leaders. Sometimes the right answer is to pair great managers with great leaders.
On the other hand, if you have great leaders who "maintain moral and motivation" (per Michael's tweet) but aren't good managers (scope, task, quality) you also don't produce great results. That's why I think both tweets are accurate and great leaders need to be paired with great managers. There should be no value judgment assigned to each role -- they are both critical.
Leadership is about knowing the right set of goals to complete in the first place -- it is about setting direction. In business we often call this "vision" because it's a lot more about knowing what is important in the first place. It's about doing the right things more than doing things right.
Leadership is about assembling a group of talented people who all want to work for your team and are motivated to work together. Leadership is about creating a shared vision that the entire team buys into and making adjustments when team members persuade you that you're off course. If you assemble a very talented team, people will of course both disagree with each other and will have conflict over both direction and resources. This is natural. The tough job of a leader is knowing how and when to adjudicate.
Leadership is about knowing the motivating forces of each member of your team and observing that these change over time. Great leaders know how to get the best out of team members and when to be omnipresent and when to back off and allow space. Leadership is about knowing how much power to devolve to which team members and when control is required versus when it isn't.
Ultimately, leadership is about knowing how to get the most out of a team. This not only involves division of responsibilities but also knowing when it's time to change or add team members.
Great leaders recognize the difference between leadership itself and management. Many of us aspire to be great at both, but the reality is that few of us are. Great leaders surround themselves with great managers and vice versa. There is no sense of providing a clear vision (leadership) if your team can't agree and complete the tasks to achieve your goals (management).
Conversely, there is limited benefit in working hard and pulling late nights and weekends on tasks that don't accomplish something worthwhile. Frankly, this is what I see a lot of at startups -- people working hard on tasks without understanding whether they're the right or most effective tasks in the first place.
The one great thing that true leaders understand is the difference between leadership and management. Great leaders know how to attract and retain great managers and know they must trust them to accomplish the team's goals. Great leaders don't confuse their own skills with "management" and try to do both.