Engagership: Stop leading. Start engaging.

by Jesse Lahey on October 14, 2013

Since the 1980s, there’s been constant discussion about the difference between a manager and a leader.

Learn from the people | EngagingLeader.com | photo courtesy of Depositphotos.com (2957252 @ Dmitry.Zimin)The basic distinction has been:

  • Manager: Works through people to get things done.
  • Leader: Sets direction and inspires people to get the RIGHT things done.

Both are needed, but the consistent message has been that a great leader – one who is charismatic, visionary, and excellent at making decisions – is the key to results. As I’ve written before, traditional leadership no longer produces superior results.

Manager or leader? This is no longer the right discussion. We don’t simply need managers and leaders. We need engagers.

Management and Leadership: Table Stakes

Here are some of the differences listed by Warren Bennis in his 1989 book On Becoming a Leader:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.

An organization needs both, of course. Good management is critical to quality, customer service, and profitability. Good leadership is key to effective strategy, decisions, and alignment.

In fact, in the new economy, where so much happens in cross-functional temporary teams, management and leadership are essential skills for the role of every knowledge worker. Some companies try to reinforce this necessity by calling all employees “leaders”; awkwardly, when they need to address people who actually have employees reporting to them, companies often use the redundant term “people leaders.”

In other words, management and leadership have become table stakes.

3 Drivers of the Shift to Engagership

Today, what sets apart the extraordinary is engagership: stimulating, unleashing, and focusing the collective talent and passion of the team. It’s beyond managing or leading; it’s cultivating a team to serve a shared purpose that they define and shape together.

The change has been driven by three realities of the new normal:

  • New speed
  • New motivation
  • New communication

We have done it ourselves| EngagingLeader.com | photo courtesy of Depositphotos.com (2957252 @ Dmitry.Zimin)

New Speed

This is the connected economy, where ideas are changing everything quickly. It’s the era of social media, crowdsourcing, and viral videos. Startups like Google and Facebook come out of nowhere and take over; huge companies like Lehman Brothers disappear overnight.

No sooner is a decision made, a goal defined, a destination targeted, a map drawn, then the circumstances change. A new map must be drawn.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” said Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, one of history’s most famous military strategists. Has this ever been more true than today?

“I have always found that plans are useless,” said Dwight Eisenhower. “But planning is indispensable.” Planning is still important for many reasons, such as focusing energy and improving processes, but today’s environment requires responsive, agile planning and implementation. Top-down planning and cascading is too slow and narrow.

In a world that’s complex and rapidly changing, it’s too limiting to relegate so much responsibility to a person or committee.

“Learn from the people,” says the Tao Te Ching. “Plan with the people.” These ancient words from a slower time reveal a secret weapon for this day of rapid change.

New Motivation

In his bestselling book DRIVE, Daniel Pink builds a convincing case that today’s workforce is motivated by three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

“Autonomy” is a fancy term for a concept near and dear to Americans and many others around the world: freedom. Freedom in our work means having a significant degree of choice in what we do, how we do it, and when we do it. Does that sound like we want to be managed or led?

“Purpose” means contributing to something that makes a difference in people’s lives. People don’t stay engaged for very long for the sake of a paycheck or a product. Winning companies engage their people in exploring the higher good their team can accomplish. They constantly remind people of their shared purpose and stimulate them to continually shape the purpose over time.

We no longer want someone to lead us. We want someone to help us lead ourselves, together.

New Communication

If you haven’t noticed, communication has changed since 1989. Heck, it’s changing as I write this.

There are the obvious technological changes. From letters and faxes, to email and web, to forum and blog, to Facebook and Twitter, to Vine and Pinterest, to whatever is trending when I finally publish this article.

The technology changes are physical evidence of the powerful (and often paradoxical) new communication principles of today’s influencers:

  • Authentic and transparent in an age of skepticism
  • Human and personally accountable in an era of faceless megacorporations
  • Collaborative and generous in a time of non-centralized tribes, free agents, and crowdsourcing
  • Attention-focusing in age of distraction
  • Responsive in an era of immediate framing
  • Brief and visual in a time of surfing and skimming
  • Flexible, thoughtful, and reflective in an age of complexity
  • Remarkable in an era of social sharing
  • Empathetic, humble, and even humorous in a time when trust is king
  • “We” focused, rather than “Me” focused
  • Listens and learns, rather than directs
  • Inspires pride in a shared long-term purpose, rather than short-term personal gain
  • Stimulates honest dialogue and critical thinking, rather than polarized spin, ad hominem attacks, and twaddle (brain candy).

These trends affect all types of communication … organizational and interpersonal; written, oral, and visual; instructional, practical, and even entertaining communication such as music and movies.

We Have Done It Ourselves

“Of the best leaders,” continues the Tao Te Ching, “when the task is accomplished, the people will remark: We have done it ourselves.” Isn’t that the type of team you’d love to give your heart to? I suggest that’s a team with not a single leader – it’s full of the best leaders, and served by at least one engager.

Can you think of any current or historical examples of engagership? Have you ever experienced it? Let us know in the comments section!

Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. If you know anyone who would benefit from this information, please share it!

  • We must encourage people to keep on leading and be more engaging as the lead. Leadership does not end when you engage people. Leadership expands.

    Jef Menguin | http://jefmenguin.com

    • Jef, leadership expands – I like that! Engaging a team does not end, period. Full engagement is an ongoing challenge, but it needs to be co-created by the team rather than driven by the leader.

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