In enterprises, leadership and management don’t necessarily work in lovely concert. In fact, the two can be diametrically opposed as the executives diverge about how to approach problems. A recent portrayal of this polarisation was the philosophical debate played out by the US government Executive Branch at the outset of the Iraq conflict.
On the ‘manager’ side was Colin Powell. Evan Thomas of Newsweek describes, “On the one hand, there is the Go Slow School. Its dean is Secretary of State Colin Powell, patient and prudent; its most forceful spokesmen are ex-advisers to President Bush’s father, Wise Men like former national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State James A. Baker.” On the ‘leader’ side was Donald Rumsfeld. Thomas describes, “’Leaning forward’ is one of Rumsfeld’s favorite expressions. An old cold-war term, familiar to soldiers and spies, it means the willingness to be aggressive, to take risks.”
The Powell ‘Doctrine of Overhwhelming Force’ is a natural corollary of his ‘manager’ approach focusing on minimising risk.
· Is a vital US interest at stake?
· Will we commit sufficient resources to win?
· Are the objectives clearly defined?
· Will we sustain the commitment?
· Is there reasonable expectation that the public and Congress will support the operation?
· Have we exhausted our other options?
· Do we have a clear exit strategy?
None of these questions concern opportunity or what we might get out of the undertaking. They only concern possible downsides around alignment, commitment, focus, strategic positioning, and long term costs and making sure all the bases are covered.
Thomas goes on to illustrate Rumsfeld’s approach to risk, "’No one who has ever listened to Rumsfeld would call him cavalier or a gambler,’ says Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. Rumsfeld’s determination to ‘lean forward’ on Iraq "fits the view,’ says Libby, ‘that sometimes the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action’." This comment highlights an important distinction in the risk attitudes outlined by the leader/manager model. It is not that a leader is more or less risk adverse or inclined than a manager. It is just the upside or downside nature that is focused on. A manager will talk about the ‘risks’ (the word by itself typically associated with downsides), while a leader will talk about ‘opportunity cost’ which is just another term for upside risk lost, aka. ‘the risk of not doing something’.
The challenge of the Executive, in this case President Bush, is not to decide which of the battling schools are correct, but rather to figure out a solution which embodies the best from both. Doing the right things right. Bill Gates was once asked a question (Bill is phenomenal at Q&A with the ability to distil at a high level and drill to a very deep level), “What is your biggest management challenge?” I thought his answer was pure genius a belied his deep business acumen that makes him repeatedly voted the most respected business leader in the world. He responded (paraphrase), “At Microsoft we hire a lot of very smart people. The challenge of a manager is to get the IQs to add up and not subtract from one another. Left alone, they have an astonishing tendency to do the latter.”