As with most things, balance is essential to peak organizational performance

By Jesse Williams & Randy Larcher  |  Originally Posted on Calibre Press, Apr 16, 2018

The NFL season ended a few months ago, and many of us anxiously await the upcoming draft and a new season of hope. (Except for Cleveland Browns fans. Sorry.) As is the case every year, numerous coaches got fired shortly after the season concluded. Would you say these coaches were fired for lack of “leadership skills” or “management skills”?

In contemplating your answer to this question, consider the following.

The owner of the Detroit Lions said of fired coach Jim Caldwell: “I believe Jim is one of the finest leaders we’ve ever had as our head coach. Not only did he guide us on the field to three winning seasons, but he also set a standard of excellence off the field that had a tremendous impact on everyone in our organization and our entire community. As many of our players have already said, his influence on them transcended the game of football and will positively serve them throughout their lives. Our organization is better because of Jim, and we are forever grateful.”

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said of his recently fired coach: “Chuck Pagano provided Colts fans with many exciting wins and memories as head coach of the Colts. Throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, he impacted the lives of the players he coached, those who he worked with in the organization and Colts fans across the globe.”

Fired Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said: “The opportunities and lack of production [were] really not good enough, really disappointing… [Owner] Mike Davis told me he loved me and appreciated all I did to get this program going in the right direction, but that he felt the need to change … But it’s a results business. I understand that.”

Fired Chicago Bears coach John Fox said: “Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come.” One of his players remarked: “He’s a great coach. He’s a great man. He teaches you more than just football. … It’s just sad news. You hate for anybody to lose their job.”

Leadership & Management

Volumes have been written about both leadership and management. Although each has a respective definition, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Leadership, simply defined, is the ability to influence others. Management can be defined as running the systems and processes of everyday work. No matter what definitions we use, we must be careful not to compartmentalize leadership and management into competing interests.

There is typically a negative connotation with the word “manager” and a positive one with the word “leader.” Because of this, there is a temptation to take a “hands-off” approach to leadership. This is dangerous, because failing to be a good manager could result in you getting fired (see the examples above). Most problems in police agencies—and organizations in general, when drilled down to root causes—always come back to a deficiency in management practices.

Leadership expert Jim Collins wrote: “The very best leaders are first and foremost effective managers. Those who seek to lead but fail to manage will become either irrelevant or dangerous, not only to their organizations, but to society.”

So how do you manage successfully without becoming the ever-dreaded micromanager? “Micromanagement” certainly has a negative connotation, but a hands-off approach in the name of being a good leader is not the answer. Sometimes we fear micromanagement to such a degree that we don’t manage at all.

To strike the right balance, leaders might benefit from thinking of their role as a successful coach, who sets rules, develops a strategic vision, and then holds the players accountable for how they prepare for and play the game. The coach usually calls the plays and makes in-game decisions, but the success of the game is largely due to the performance of the players on the field. Good coaches understand this and give appropriate recognition while taking appropriate blame. Interestingly, the outcome of games over time is the largest factor in determining a coach’s job security. One inspires people (leadership) by mentoring and influencing. One manages people by holding them accountable for their preparation (training) and execution. Measuring performance is largely a management function. Inspiring performance is largely a leadership function.

In Sum

In summary, successful leaders blend both leadership and management skills. It’s impossible to be successful by focusing on one track at the exclusion of the other. We must meld the two into an identity that enables us to inspire and create vision while at the same time ensuring expectations are clear and employees are held accountable.

We challenge you to find a job function within your sphere of responsibility where performance is lacking. Implement a system that will enable you to better manage that performance. Then inspire people to go out and win the game. Keep yourself and your team accountable for the results.