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Winning the Super Bowl: Leadership and Management Working Together

iStock_000001066525XSmallWith Super Bowl LXVII fast approaching, it made me wonder about what makes a group of individuals perform as a superb team.

Tom Landry, famed coach of the Dallas Cowboys, said “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you’ve always known you can be.”  And the equally famous Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers said “Coaching in its truest sense is giving the responsibility to the learner to help them come up with their own answers.”

Clearly, both of these eminent men thought coaching mattered to the success of the individual and thus to the entire team.  Out of the separate efforts of each player came a team that worked together to achieve prominence.

Further, in the Financial Times of January 29th an article entitled “Can Coaching Make The Difference” attributes Andy Murray’s success in winning the US Open tennis championship to the coaching he received from former champion Ivan Lendl, ‘who has helped [Murray] to pace his performance and stay calm.’

Coaching provides caring of the highest degree, helping leaders ‘develop self-awareness and recognize blind spots in their [i.e., client’s] approach.’  Clients like Murray develop confidence to ‘…handle better the challenges that come with leading complex organizations in a rapidly changing operating environment.  Coaching helps leaders [italics added] think collectively.’

Which brings me to the age-old question of Leadership vs. Management, at the heart of why good teams, I believe, excel.

John Kotter of The Harvard Business School recently blogged about this subject in “Management is (Still) Not Leadership,” and I think reviewing his points will help us understand why men such as Landry and Lombardi were such superb coaches and leaders over the long-term.

Leadership and management are radically different and not interchangeable terms.  The two perform vitally different functions, though both have critical roles to play.

Leaders are not necessarily at the top of an organization or individuals with charismatic and endearing personal characteristics.  Likewise, managers do not always play a worker or specialist role.  Using these attributes to categorize someone as a leader or manager is a dangerous mistake.

Management is best described as adhering to or executing a ‘set of well-known processes….which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well.’  It is about producing promised products and service consistently across time.  Because it is about execution, management is a difficult task.  “We constantly underestimate how complex this task is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs,” writes Kotter.  Management is crucial he says, but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different.  “It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities.”  Kotter believes that leadership is about vision, ‘about people buying in, about behavior.’  And because we operate in a world moving at a heady pace, leadership is needed more and from more people, ‘no matter where they are in the hierarchy.’  Assuming that a ‘few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.’  We need superb management; we need superb leaders.  One cannot exist without the other.  ‘We need to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient.”

And so we return to football, both an elegant and brutal sport.

A football team is composed, as is any organization or team, of both managers and leaders – you have offensive and defensive team leaders, you have the head coach, and you have the quarterback.  Each of them must read the fast-moving changes and adaptations of the opposing team, meting out instructions and directions in real-time to their team mates, who we can say ‘manage the play.’

The team that wins this coming Sunday will be the one that has superb leaders making fine adjustments, empowering the men on the field , and managers who execute brilliantly in the face of constantly changing conditions.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

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