Leadership and Management – is it so easy a caveman could do it?

My kids recently discovered the movie, the Croods, which is about a family of cavemen who have to leave the safety of their cave due to a series of earthquakes and other eruptions. Mid way through the father, quite bewildered by his family’s behavior, tells his daughter, I kept you safe. To which his daughter replied, we weren’t living, we just weren’t dying, there is a difference.

The Croods8
The Croods8 (Photo credit: TheCroodsGame)

It is very easy to confuse leadership with management. In the case above, the father was a great family manager. He was able to assess each of their strengths and weaknesses and as a result they were able to hunt for food as a team. They all shared in each other’s success and when the food supply ran short, the father did the noble thing by skimping on his ration so that his children could grow stronger. He also went out of his way to protect them from dangerous threats such as sabre toothed tigers and other weird creatures I am glad aren’t around today.

But he was a terrible leader. Why? Because he was so focused on ensuring that all were aware of the near certain danger, his family wasn’t able to rally around an image of a better future. Without the ability to visualize the future, the family accepted the threats at face value and never tried to find ways around them. They were well-managed, but they were stuck in a dark cave, ignorant of the larger world, and would have remained there as the land collapsed around them had it not been for an injection of fresh ideas in the form of a stranger.

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That same stranger never showed whether or not he had managerial chops. He cared about the teenage girl, and eventually bonded with the father, but never went out of his way to really get to know the others. He gave them some nice tools and shared innovative survival strategies, but really in the end only made them more like himself rather than try to capitalize on their individual potential. He had no assurance that there would actually be a better tomorrow, and could just as easily placed the group in an even riskier situation like a Pied Piper. He proved you can be a great leader, but also be lousy manager.

Great leaders are champions of change and not afraid to take risks, they pull their teams along with them. They are the hunters. Great managers are efficiency experts and nurturing by nature, they minimize risk and push their teams into situations where success is achievable. They are the gatherers. Whether you are a great leader or a great manager you are going to get a workout.

A word of caution though. There is a reason that there is usually a trusty sidekick in every hero story. It is nearly impossible to be both the leader and the manager at the same time. The mentality is just too different.

So breathe. You don’t have to be both. It’s actually a lot less stressful for everyone if you simply pick one role and be the best possible version of that singular role you can be. Look in the mirror long and hard and figure out which route is best for you. Then go out and find your compliment. Recruit or train up. You can also still find your leadership or management balance in the form of a trusted business advisor. Self employed or other team of one? It’s still worth recognizing your strength and building up on those skills, with any luck they will come in handy before you know it.

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