At the risk of sounding like a bad joke, what does an 85-year-old Pope and a 32-year-old CEO of a dot-com startup have in common? Answer: Both were replaced last month. While Pope Benedict XVI and Andrew Mason, former CEO of Groupon, make an odd comparison, their change in job status played out before our eyes on different blogs and on different pages in the same daily newspaper.
Both men are amazing and I would not criticize either. But for one interested in leadership, I see volumes of lessons to be learned when comparing their radically different organizations and what each organization needs from its leader.
One thing is clear, the need for good leadership cuts across every organization, regardless of its age, politics, religious beliefs, or reason for being. To succeed and sustain itself, each organization needs to have the right leader at the right time. Savvy organizations, and those with 2000 years of history on their side, have clear processes in place and a large talent pool of future leaders.
But on an individual level, if you are currently managing a company or a department, what does it mean to you to be a good, if not great, leader? To help with that answer, I stumbled across an article in an old Harvard Business Review, written in 1990 by leadership guru John P. Kotter. What Leaders Really Do provides a clear description of the difference between leading and managing.
To quote Kotter: “Management is about coping with complexity. . . Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change.” Leadership, Kotter explains, is setting a direction that takes into account the emotional and human needs of your organization and its customers or constituents as opposed to planning and budgeting. “What leaders really do,” Kotter writes, “is prepare organizations for change and help them cope as they struggle through it.”
As a leader of your company or department, you will need to inspire, and manage tasks. The challenge is to understand what’s needed more at a particular time — vision or organization. Over time, you’ll need to do both well if you want to grow and move forward. If you have mastered one, you’re halfway there. If you’re weak in one area, tap into someone who can compliment you. If you cannot do either well, you need to demonstrate the historic courage of Pope Benedict XVI and step aside.