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Divine Discontent

Are leaders made or born ? Are managers born or made ? Do you become a better leader or manager with time ?

Harvard Business School’s Abraham Zaleznik articulated the difference in his classic 1977 essay “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” Proclaimed Professor Zaleznik, “Managers and leaders are two very different types of people. Managers’ goals arise out of necessities rather than desires; they excel at defusing conflicts between individuals or departments, placating all sides while ensuring that an organization’s day-to-day business gets done. Leaders, on the other hand, adopt personal, active attitudes toward goals. They look for the opportunities and rewards that lie around the corner, inspiring subordinates and firing up the creative process with their own energy. Their relationships with employees and coworkers are intense, and their working environment is often chaotic.” Leadership is the value added; management is what gets automated, rightsized, or outsourced to Bangalore or Guangzhou.

Global markets provided an unambiguously clear opinion: They craved leadership. The Lord John Brownes, Jack Welches, Percy Barneviks, Carlos Ghosns, Andy Groves, and Bill Gateses are celebrated far more as innovative global leaders than as operational management exemplars. The leadership “brand” has become so powerful and compelling that successful managers are inherently considered “great leaders.” Ironically, however, people tagged as great leaders don’t have to be great business managers. Over the past two decades, managing a large corporation has changed beyond recognition. CEO supermen like Andy Grove of Intel and Jack Welch of GE are in short and unpredictable supply from a far too limited pool.

Yet the bursting of the dot-com/telecom bubbles and the disgraceful collapses of Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Tyco, Parmalat, etc., have cruelly constrained the brand trajectory of the leadership label. Where governance was once the longest and most elastic of leashes that let leadership stray with minimal attention, it is now a beautifully upholstered cage with 24-hour surveillance and legal advisors on call worldwide.

In other words, the global rise of governance as a business concern reflects the pathological failure of leaders to manage. Accountability, transparency, and oversight will mean something very different to CEOs and the boardroom over the next 10 years than they did in the past. A new ecology of interdependent management, leadership, and governance is arising. Striking a balance among these three imperatives will be a greater challenge in years to come. Will those who meet that challenge emerge with better leadership, better management, and better governance? Today’s “leaders” have lost the right to be the only ones with the authority and legitimacy to answer those questions.

According to Charan the essential qualities of a successful business leader are the ability to sort out complexity because of the nature and number of variables and the structural changes in business. The second is managing external constituencies. And the third is you must be a social architect. You have to have those three. And of course, there’s a fourth: tenaciously mastering the business model.

And finally attitude described by a lovely Indian phrase in describing an affliction suffered by successful leaders: “divine discontent.” best explained as “Never satisfied. You’ll never reach that inner, ultimate nirvana.”

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