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    Thursday, July 23, 2015

    "Managing" is not "Leading:" a small case study from everyday business

    Here's a little story that illustrates to me the difference between leading and managing.  I will say up front it is told from my perspective, so I may not have some of the information that was available to the decision maker in this, but I can say unequivically, that this leader did not seek out additional information I possessed, so that is a strike against him.

    The story...

    I lead an effort across our company to replace users' PCs.  We have about 6000 to be replaced over a 3-4 year period and the replaced machines are very old.  We struggle financially, so this was delayed and the machines have become quite aged.  But, everyone is in the same boat, and when we did get some money in 2015 to start large scale updates, we started from oldest to newest.  It's fair, and given the age, the old ones had to go first.

    We also have over 100 locations throughout the US, so those replacements are scattered, so that entire offices do not get replaced en masse.  Therefore, you could get a new PC and be working next to a guy with a 3 year old machine.  I am sure this is common across companies with 5000+ employees.

    In all companies, you have people with PC envy.  Ours is no different, and we have a particular pair of managers, who shall remain nameless, who at the very beginning of this effort made every effort to get included at the beginning, despite their machines being among the newest of the old.  Their machines were not slated for replacement until 2016 and to move them ahead of about 2500 people was patently unfair, not to mention pulling 2016 budget into 2015, a technical no-no, though something that would be no big deal for a couple of people. My manager and I resisted and these manager's VP even agreed and helped provide cover for us and this ceased after a while as they accepted their lot in life.

    Note that in this, never did these guys express much concern for their 20 or so direct reports, suffering along with similarly aged equipment.  No, it was always about them personally.  So, I won't say what I think of these two as leaders in this case.

    Fast forward now a few months.

    Our team has moved into a new organization, with a new VP and C level ourselves and lo and behold if these guys haven't found the correct pressure point. Within a week of this occurring, we're told to provide these 2 and 4 other managers new PCs.  When we resist, the rationale is that they're ahead of quota and this can be looked at as a reward and not special treatment of these people.

    Ok, whatever.  This is where my problem with my VP/C level begins.

    You were handed a leadership opportunity here, and you managed instead.

    You could have contacted the two people with the years (yes, years) of experience with this group and talked to us, gotten some deeper understanding and developed a course of action that would represent leading, instead of just managing to close a problem.

    We could have asked the questions, if the team is doing so well, why just reward the 6 managers in this team?  The other 24 people are in the same boat, and arguably, they have more to do with the results than these 6 managers.  Why is it fair for these people to walk in with brand new PCs and the others to be told they're continung to wait until 2016?  Perhaps you could have challenged these managers and proposed replacing the other 24 first, that it would be a great leadership example to say, "You did a great job, lool what we're doing with our IT partners, getting YOU the new hardware you deserve, and when you're done, then we managers will take our turn."

    You could have done that, or even lobbied for the entire group.

    Instead you bowed to the pressure provided and caved,  Instantly.

    Then justified it based on the reasoning they provided.

    In any organization, not just the military, leaders have to be responsive and accepting of forceful backup, willingly provided.  But first, they have to seek it and consider it.

    That was not done in this case, and I find it's really rarely done at all.

    It's sad.

    This was a lost opportunity at leadership, and albeit a relatively small one, but, it speaks volumes to me.