Think Leadership Ideas

Dual ACTION Leadership

What is leadership? I encourage would-be leaders to think ACTION.

While there are dozens of definitions of leadership with perhaps thousands of nuances, the fundamental concept to keep in mind is that leadership is about ACTION – specifically, action taken with people.

Here's the kicker: the more an enterprise is dependent on brainpower – i.e., people sharing knowledge to create innovations and bring them to the marketplace – the more leadership is important.

The Twin Leadership Actions – Leading and Managing

Leadership action is comprised of two complimentary parts: leading and managing.

In some ways leading and managing are inseparable, like two sides of the same coin. And like ‘heads or tails’ on a coin, these two types of leadership actions have intrinsically opposed objectives.

Leading is the act of gaining willing followers for a course of action when the way forward is uncertain. And thus, the intrinsic objective of leading is change.

Leading consists of actions such as:

• inviting followers to move toward a new vision of the future;
• informing about the territory ahead, preparing people for what to expect, and addressing fears;
• articulating important values that provide motivation for joint action;
• setting an emotional tone (especially passion for the endeavor);
• eliciting commitment to stay on the journey.

The implication of choice – as in “an invitation” to a future vision and gaining “willing” followers – is perhaps the most important aspect of leading. People give their best when they do so voluntarily. To bring out the best in people, they must choose to follow rather than be compelled.

Managing is just as crucial an action as leading. I define managing as the act of organizing resources within prescribed ways to achieve predetermined goals. While managing can and does encompass organizing all kinds of resources, we are talking specifically here about managing people.

Managing consists of actions such as:
• establishing working processes, including methods to assess, plan, implement, and evaluate actions;
• setting goals, clarifying roles, and communicating expectations;

• providing discipline, including the rewards and consequences of behavior in the organization;
• creating organizational structures to accomplish the venture’s purpose;
• facilitating relationships between players inside and outside the organization.

Just as the intrinsic objective of leading is change, managing people has a very different intrinsic objective – stability.

While each side of the leadership action coin – leading and managing – is distinct, most executives must use a combination of both. To be effective they must do so artfully, taking into account the situational context and their personal qualities. Too much leading without managing can easily take people (investors, customers, or employees) down a rosy path that has no substance. Too much managing over leading and no one cares – why would anyone (investors, customers, or employees) even want to be involved?

Effective leadership action requires knowledge, skill, and experience that are distinct from either technical expertise or business know-how. Leaders and founders of organizations that are rapidly growing especially must to ask themselves the hard question of whether to invest resources and effort in tools to develop their leadership capacity (see companion article, Leadership Tools), or to ultimately step aside and turn over the reigns to others with differing leadership experience.

by Tom Stevens (c)2006
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit

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