Different environments require different balances of Leadership and Management.

The best metaphor I have encountered for the Tech Bubble of the 90s is a cash-grab booth. Money flying everywhere and you didn’t need a particularly sophisticated strategy to grab as much of your share as possible. That’s what it felt like.

I know that the DotCom bubble caused major consternation within the Microsoft when I was there. Ballmer was famously one of the few executives bold and grounded enough to call out the mania (and its cost him personally hundreds of millions of dollars to do so since his comments knocked 5% off the stock price). There is such a thing as growing ‘too’ fast. When the Leader’s pursuit of ‘upside opportunity’ is reduced to little more than a cash grab, there is little time and focus to build the infrastructure one needs to maintain such scale. The accountability is perverted and the strategy chaotic.

The situation also does highlight the ‘in appropriate balance’ phrase included in my definition of Leadership and Management…

“Leaders optimise upside. Managers minimise downside. Both together are needed in appropriate balance to maximise outcomes.”

When the environment presents greater upside in general (‘rising tide’), then a proportionate imbalance to ‘Leadership’ is called for. The imbalance of the focus is counterbalanced by the imbalance of opportunity/risk in the market in general. Similarly, in times of shortfall, ‘Management’ is called for. Downside is more prevalent and proportionately more Management is needed to guard against its greater presence. In the environment of downturn, the ‘cash grab’ is more of a ‘cash hunt’. And the ‘money box’ become more of a ‘money grid search’ (see below). More methodical, more measured, more safe.

But one needs to consider the time horizon as well. If reject the notion that ‘Leaders are long term, Managers are short term.’ A short term leader may grab the money, but leave themselves exposed in sustainable strategy long term. A short term manager may survive the drought, but leave themselves with few new options to rejuvenate.

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