On Leadership vs Management pt 2

I was surfing Reddit today and I noticed someone had put up a very… very good blog post on “Urgent vs. Important”.  I’ve provided a link below because I think it describes the things that I’ve been toying around with really well.


I’ve heard the urgent vs. important thing several times now, and most often described as a four quadrant grid.  Things to keep in mind: what am I focusing on?  The urgent, or the important?

On Leadership versus Management

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?

Visionary Leadership:

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:

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.

The Notion of “High Performing Organizations”

In the past month I’ve heard the term “High Performing Organization” much more than I’ve ever wanted to.  And even though the term was used to describe the vision of two different organizations in two different sectors (a public institution (the government) and a nonprofit institution) I found that there were certain similarities that existed and some key differences also.

The first mention of a high performing organization was during a briefing of a report from the Institute of Medicine about the Department of Health and Human Services.  Generally speaking, the things that were mentioned in the briefing was around aligning vision -> mission -> strategies.  Surrounding the vision, mission and strategies were the key factors of people (leaders, managers, and administrators).  There wasn’t anything that I hadn’t heard before, but the central key idea was the notion that it was necessary to continuously reinvent the organization and improve on what it was doing.

Throughout the Georgetown Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate program that I’ve been taking, the term “high performing organization” has been thrown around a lot (e.g., development & fundraising, organizational change, strategic planning).  I think the most relevant one and the closest term that aligns with what is typically used is the one used with organizational change.  I wasn’t really surprised that there was no significant differences between the concept between the two sectors (nonprofit and public), and I would venture to say that there is no difference between those and the private sector either.  So in essence the ideals of a high performing organization exist across sectors.

What’s interesting to me though, is that even though the definition of a high performing organization is consistent across sectors, it is very difficult to point to examples of them except for in the private sector.  In the private sector, companies like IBM are pointed to as being exemplary organizations.  However, in the nonprofit sector, there’s significant disagreement across which organization is representative of a high performing organization.  Certainly there are nonprofits that perform their mission well, but that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a well-run organization.  This was never more apparent than the first class at Georgetown where organizations appeared on both my colleagues “Top 3” and “Bottom 3” nonprofits.

In light of that, I don’t think the notion of a high performing organization necessarily applies to all sectors.  I’ve come to the thinking that it is easier to benchmark private corporations to the same bar, profit.  With nonprofit and government agencies, I find that it is increasingly difficult to determine how to measure whether they are a “high performing organization” versus a “successful organization.”

In the end, I postulate the question: Does high performing mean good at counting beans, while successful mean good at getting results?  If that’s the case, what kind of an organization would you rather be?