Current management design: The one with the ideas becomes the manager

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In my previous articles, I showed why managers are often resistant to change or are bad at leadership – by design.  In today’s article, I’d like to walk through another common scenario – the leader who then has to manage.

I’ve created a model that shows the difference between leadership and management.

In this model, it allows for an individual person without a team to demonstrate leadership.  If they are involved with setting the strategy for an organization, they are a leader.  Oftentimes this is the person with the idea, and that person does a lot of work to spread the idea, get support for the idea, and convince other parts of leadership and individual producers of the need to pursue the idea.  If that idea actually gets executed, it sure looks like that person is a leader – the person leads by being out in front of an idea, and leads by making sure the idea got into the hands of those who can do something about it.

So that shows how someone can become a leader without managing a team!

I love this scenario, because it shows that someone in an individual contributor role can be considered a serious leader in an organization.  There are many people like that in an organization, and this kind of path to be a “strategist” shows career growth that can provide terrific value to the organization. It also shows that the strategist does not have to be the strategy executor (a.k.a., manager) to be a leader in an organization.

Now, here’s the problem.  Many times organizations say, “This is a great leader!” Then they put that person in a manager role:

We’ve seen this frequently in organizations.  When someone shows leadership, they are given a team to execute that strategy.  It is a common marker of success for that individual.  Here’s your team – now go do it!

When looking at it from this perspective, you can see how this can be a bad design.  The person is clearly great at coming up with ideas and strategies for driving the organization forward, and the fact that the organization would transition that individual to be head of a team shows a great belief in that individual.

The problem with the design is twofold:

1.     The person is no longer doing strategy

When looking at it this way, giving that strategist a team is more like a punishment rather than a reward.  The person is great at coming up with ideas and being convincing of those ideas.  But then they are immediately rebounded to a manager role and doing something that is quite different from what the person is demonstrably good at.  Under this design, the moment the person demonstrates doing something valuable to the organization, they are then removed from doing that very thing.  That’s kind of insane, really.

2.     The person is now doing management

While often a marker of success, in action this is a marker of doom for many managers (who really want to be “ideators” or strategists).  You may get lucky and have someone who was good at coming up with the strategy and is good at executing this, but this is nothing more than a bet.  When seeing this path, you can see that it is a bet.  The bet is that this idea-creating strategist has the patience and people management skills necessary to get the strategy accomplished.  More likely that “idea person” is impatient and lacks the people management skills – a “weakness” that makes them terrific at creating strategy.  They may develop the people management skills in the process, but it seems a bit dicey of a proposition.  If the idea is a good one, make sure it is in the hands of those you know can execute it!

A better design is to have people who are good at doing strategy do strategy, and people who are good at strategy execution doing strategy execution.  This may seem like an obvious point, but look at your organization and see if this is what is happening.  Look at how people got into their various roles and when they had the chance to develop and hone their leadership and management skills.

You’re more likely to find that it was a haphazard journey where the very thing that they were best at got pulled out from under them, and the thing that they are doing the most of now is what they are worst at.  This, I declare, is unstrategic, and the result of bad management design.

Related Articles:

Management Design: The Designs we have now: The paths to management and leadership

Management Design: The designs we have now – Manager knows and supports only one possible strategy

Management Design: The Designs we have now: Part time strategist, part time manager

The Cost of Low Quality Management

Management Design:  The “designs” we have now: Send them to training (part 1)

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Send them to training (part 2)

Management Design: The designs we have now – Promote the one who asks for it

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Make the loudest person the manager

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Recruit someone from a successful comparable organization

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: You can manage only if you’re from here

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Hire the premier technical expert

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: Promote the top performer

Management Design: The “designs” we have now: You’ve managed a team before? We need you!

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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