I recently picked up On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis and found it pretty interesting. Originally published in 1989, the book still has many lessons that are relevant today – some perhaps more relevant than when first published. Much of the book is a series of dense vignettes describing different business situations and lessons, but the most concise, and in my opinion most valuable, part of the book is Bennis’ comparison of managers and leaders:
– The manager administers; the leader innovates.
– The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
– The manager maintains; the leader develops.
– The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
– The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
– The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
– The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
– The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
– The manager imitates; the leader originates.
– The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
– The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
– The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
In a style somewhat reminiscent of Ben Horowitz’ Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager (which of course, came later), Bennis cleanly defines and differentiates managers and leaders.
Curiously, this Wall Street Journal article suggests that when Bennis originally published his book, he was actually explaining the difference between two distinct jobs (e.g. the foreman vs. the owner of an industrial era factory). However today, we know his list represents two different personas represented inside one person and one job.
In many ways, Bennis’ work speaks for itself and immediately triggers a wave of self evaluation. Are you a manager or a leader?
However, when I read this list I also see something else. I see it as a reminder of the complexity and nuance inherent in running a modern organization.