Meeting Warren Bennis

Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. – Warren Bennis.

But what the “right thing is can cause quite a debate and who gets to decide what the right thing really is?

A leader encourages, leads by example, cares about the team and gives regular feedback. People need to be recognized and praised. A leader influences and inspires others to believe in themselves and to follow a vision for the future.

True leaders inspire others to greatness. In spite of what may seem the contrary, being a true leader in times of sacrifice and turbulence is even more important than in normal times.

Effective managers have an entrepreneurial approach that involves being passionate about their leaders vision.  Their role is then to manage the execution through creating their own vision for the operational model. They then set the goals and deliver the results through their people.

There is a fine line between leadership and management. A line that is often shifting according to circumstance. If you are going to maximize growth and profitability in your organization that means that every manager must become an effective leader.

In reality if you are going to be responsible for the actions and results of others it just isn’t good enough to be only a manager. Effectively, managing is about leadership. Personally, I believe to be really effective a good leader must be a good manager and a good manager effectively must be a good leader. Most Irish businesses are owner managed so the two roles are synonymous, however they should not be considered the same even if done by the same person.

Here is what Robert I. Sutton at the Harvard Business Review Blog said recently:

“I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management. Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.

Therefore, harking back to the Bennis theorem I quoted above, let me propose a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.”

When we glorify leadership too much, and management too little, there is great risk of failing to act on this obvious but powerful message.”

So, from my point of view I’d like to add to Warren Benis’s definition of a leader, and that is:

…. Leaders do the right thing AND do it at the right time (on time) and in the right way

What a pleasure it was to meet Warren Bennis at the Best Practices in Leadership Development Summit in San Diego Nov 2009.

I met with Warren for about 10 minutes. We chatted about various things. He was very complimentary about the work I am doing in Ireland. He has what I can only describe as a ‘warm’ presence. He oozes humility and imediately makes you feel that you have something valuable to offer. We exchanged a story. He listend to mine with eyes of an eight year old wanting to learn all about life right now. Warren is 82 years old yet makes you believe he is still growing up! He gave me the impression of the ultimate learner. He made my story seem so much more important than his and thanked me for the gift in telling him the story. My only regeret is that I was not as present for his story as he was for mine. This was not helped by the fact that I was wondering if this was for real or a dream!

Thank you Warren, your gift of your time and your absolute presence was one of the best lessons in living leadership I have had for a long time.

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