Since being elected chair of Lambda Phi Epsilon, and more recently of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, I’ve increasingly had to straddle a fine line between that of visionary leadership and pragmatic management. As the guy that’s trying to herd cats in one direction, I find it increasingly difficult to be figuring out the direction while herding the cats themselves. How does one do it?
In my mind, visionary leadership encompasses figuring out the direction of an organization, and the determination of the future state. It’s critically important that a leader has an idea of where the organization is headed. It’s not enough that operations maintain stable over the course of his/her term, things must improve in some way. Thus, the leader must be a visionary in that he has initiatives he wants to accomplish and an idea of the future-state of the organization.
Pragmatic management involves the task of actually implementing and making things happen so that the organization moves forward into the future state. Words without actions are meaningless, and I find that it is equally important knowing how to deal with coworkers, staff, and colleagues in order to execute.
The difficulty that I see is that most people are unable to do both effectively. To mitigate that weakness, is it prudent to split up those responsibilities into two separate positions? I know of several organizations, both private and public, that have done this (CEO taking care of the leading and COO in charge of the management). My initial feeling is that this is a good model to follow and to implement.
The trick here comes when you’re managing a volunteer organization. I sat through an excellent talk while I visited Duke University, Leading without Followers. I think it really hit upon the point that leading volunteers takes special skill, because those people are just doing it out of the goodness of their heart. If you can lead and manage volunteers, you can probably lead and manage anything.
Let’s see how well I’ll hold up to this task.