Michael Useem believes there’s a clear difference between leadership and management.
“When you take a job as a CIO, you have distinct responsibilities outlined by the CEO,” said the author of Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Win (Crown; $25.95). A professor of management at Wharton College and director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management, Useem defines a CIO’s job as “managing those responsibilities, which is usually a strategy for competitive gain.”
Yet the author acknowledges that to make that happen, IT leaders have to summon leadership skills—which he describes as “the persuasive techniques needed to reach goals by harnessing the talents of others.”
In a nutshell, management and leadership skills go hand in hand—to be a good leader, you have to be a crackerjack manager.
Useem gathered quotes about leadership from several distinguished names. For management writer Peter Drucker, leadership is having followers who “do the right thing.” For political historian James MacGregor Burns, leadership is a “calling.” For President Abraham Lincoln, leadership is appealing to the “better angels of our nature. Leadership is also a matter of making a difference.”
Clearly, according to Useem, the term leadership has quite a few meanings. “Leadership entails building a winning strategy and revamping an organization to pursue it. Leading requires us to make an active choice among many plausible alternatives, and it depends on bringing others along, on mobilizing them to get the job done. Leadership is at its best when the vision is strategic, the voice persuasive, and the results tangible.”
Great leadership encourages people to be innovative, which means giving them a longer leash—yet not too long, as people need to be held accountable. “They need greater freedom in achieving their responsibility,” he explains, adding, “Leadership is what you bring above and beyond what is in the office to the office. It’s a value-add question.”
The questions for today’s tech leaders include:
- What is the value you are personally adding to the company?
- What will I leave when I leave my job—what will I have contributed?
- What am I adding to the job that was not there before?
“There are different ways to take up that hard-to-define reality that separates effective management, which is necessary to achieve effective leadership. That is every CIO’s quest,” said Useem.
Influencing factors on leaders
Academic research confirms that leaders have the greatest impact on organizations when the environments are least predictable. With the globalization of markets, rapid changes in technologies, and a growing number of competitors, firms are growing to appreciate good leadership throughout the ranks and view it as vital for staying on top of uncertain and fast-changing environments.
Beyond explaining the subtle interrelationship between leading and managing, Useem chucks the tired platitudes about upward and downward management and insists that leadership should be viewed as a four-pronged compass—downward, outward, upward, and inward—a compass that moves in all four directions.
The skill of delegating work downward is being supplemented by the talent for working outward with partners, Useem explains. Lateral leadership—in which tech leaders leverage partners' strengths instead of directing subordinates' actions—is required for achieving results when managers have no authority to guarantee them.
Outward and upward leadership is about taking charge when managers are not formally in charge. It assures that advice arrives from and information flows to all points on the corporate compass, not just from the top down, Useem says. But for these distinct forms of leadership to work well, they also require inward self-assurance and personal self-confidence.
Because the downward capacity has always defined what leadership is all about, the other three features are less well appreciated, Useem notes. “The complete manager requires an aptitude for working all cardinal points of the leadership compass, and we had thus better go on with the task of mastering the outward, upward, and inward components as well.”
The fine line between leadership and management
That brings us back to defining what is leadership and what is managing.
“Doing what you are asked to do is the essence of management,” Useem explains. “Going beyond what you are asked to do on behalf of the company, shareholders, and employees puts another spin on the job. There is a big difference in doing what you are told to do when you take over the CIO job and what you bring to the job. It means bringing your own special touch and your own special capacity and skill set. You do not get to be CEO unless you are ready to work with unsolved problems.”
Leadership is defined by getting the management job done. “Yet they also must be able to think beyond their office,” he says. “A CIO must ask, ‘How is the company going to make money from this technology?’ These types of CIOs demonstrate the potential to move up. They are constantly aware of the benefits of thinking beyond their function. They are doing their job, but they are also thinking like the CEO or CFO. They also devote time to getting their employees excited and enlisting them in their mission. This attitude is infectious and is immediately noticeable to the CEO.”
Useem’s all-encompassing view of the leadership/management world is a good foundation for building a successful career. Here are four useful tips he provided:
- Think strategically: “You have to see way ahead and beyond corners. It means looking one to three years out.”
- Become persuasive: If you’re timid and lack confidence, you must learn to enhance your communication skills to bring your ideas across.
- Act decisively and make things happen.
- Retain credibility by functioning with character and integrity.
The biggest obstacle to achieving leadership and management success is the danger in taking a myopic view of the world, Useem says. If you do, you will be doomed to wallow in the purgatory of mediocrity because you will never see beyond your job.