Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Art & "Leadership?"

I titled this blog, “Art & Leadership” because I’ve frequently felt that my own career has left me with one foot firmly planted in both disciplines.  Those who know me would probably say it should be “Management” rather than “Leadership.”  I chose leadership for purely selfish reasons:  it sounds better, reads better and surprisingly few know the difference.

In my opinion, effective development teams are composed of both strong leaders and strong managers.  Neither should be subordinate to the other, assuming comparable levels of skill and experience.  Good project direction requires strong individuals in both categories.  And good development studios recognize the difference and staff both with the best people.

Unfortunately, the two disciplines do sometimes become confused, encounter conflicting priorities and have to work through the resulting friction.  That’s okay.  Truthfully, both management and leadership require similar skills and talents:
  • Great communication skills 
  • The ability to proactively assess and prioritize opportunities
  • Stay focused on the “big picture.” 
They differ in a single dominant category:
  • Leadership is focused on the product.  It looks outward.  It is the what.
  • Management is focused on the team.  It looks inward.  It is the how.

Leaders (regardless of where they fall on the management/leadership spectrum) who focus exclusively in one area to the exclusion of the other are doomed to, at best, middling success if not outright failure.

Simply put, a strong leader with no management ability will have a clear sense of the goal.  Lacking management abilities, he or she has no idea how to get there and will likely damage the team in the process of figuring it out.  A strong manager with no leadership ability can organize the team and plan for contingencies.  However, the work will progress slowly, uncertainly and directionless in absence of a goal.

These two disciplines of thought must work in unison, as much as possible.  Ideally, the team should be staffed with both strong leaders and managers.  If your project or team seems aimless or progress is slow, then the company needs to recognize that they have not committed adequate resources to one group or the other.  Potentially, they may have also sought to have a single individual cover both disciplines - which frequently doesn't work.

To highlight this more in future posts, I've already started working on a series of mini-blog posts simply stated "Bad Manager" and "Bad Leader."  We'll save those for the future.


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