It has been said that “leading” and “managing,” though used interchangeably, have different meanings. The idea goes that the leader is a visionary, with big picture ideas, and the manager is the one who carries them out. It’s a nice concept in a world where we are consistently trying to exceed the status quo. Perhaps the two are not mutually exclusive. The late Peter Drucker, the management expert behind many books and articles, and a well-respected thought leader, said that effective executives combine qualities from both leaders and managers.
According to this article in the Harvard Business Review, Drucker laid out eight common characteristics among successful executives he had studied over the years.
- They asked, “What needs to be done?”
- They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
- They developed action plans.
- They took responsibility for decisions.
- They took responsibility for communicating.
- They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
- They ran productive meetings.
- They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”
Taken this way, an effective executive is both a visionary and someone who executes. They think big picture, but constantly assess progress. They plan, take responsibility, and hold an optimistic viewpoint.
There have been plenty of books written about styles of leadership – democratic or authoritarian, harmonizer or trail blazer. While pat descriptions, tests, and books written about “styles” make for good conference fodder and the latest management book topic, as with many things in life, the reality is much less defined. A “democratic” leader wouldn’t be seen as someone making sole decisions, but they would say “we” instead of “I.” Drucker’s definition encompasses both and he talks less about leadership and more about effective executives. Ultimately, the argument for an effective executive is much stronger than for a great leader. The person who is effective is more likely to enact positive change and meet the goals and objectives enabling the success of the company. Drucker says, “Effective executives know that they have ultimate responsibility, which can be neither shared nor delegated. But they have authority only because they have the trust of the organization.”
The debate will continue about whether leaders are born or made. Yet, it is clear from Drucker’s writings that what differentiates an effective executive from an ineffective one is discipline. And discipline only comes from action. Inspiration is important, but follow-through is even more so.