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Reflections on Management: Leadership Must Be Earned

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Managers direct people to obey their orders while leaders lead them. The authors explain that it is impossible to be an effective leader without being committed to a cause that animates you and motivates your followers.
From the book

8.4 Leadership Must Be Earned

Management uses resources to accomplish results; leadership motivates people to achieve objectives. Managing is impersonal and can be demeaning. It presumes that those being managed don't have ideas and feelings and must be told what to do and how to do it. Management is appropriate for handling inanimate objects or routine jobs. However, people like to be motivated to accomplish more challenging tasks, and they do not like being herded and directed as if they were so many cattle.

Most of us enjoy technical work, and we sought development careers because we like to do creative and challenging things. We also like to see the results of our labors, particularly when our products work the way we intended. But when someone treats us as if we were stupid or unthinking, we lose our energy and creative spark. As team leader, you will probably have to manage at least some routine work, but development engineering calls for leadership and for energetic and motivated teams. That is the only way to consistently produce truly superior results.

One principal distinction between leaders and managers is that managers direct people to obey their orders while leaders lead them. This crucial distinction is best illustrated by an example. One software manager, Ben, told me how he learned what leadership was all about. He was a marine lieutenant in Vietnam and, for the first time, he was leading his platoon into combat. As they approached the front lines, the captain told him, "Take that hill." "That hill" was where the enemy was dug in with a machine gun. There was no time for a discussion, so Ben told his troops, "Follow me," and he started running up the hill. He told me that all he could think of as he ran was not whether he would get shot or what would happen if he got to the top. The question that kept running through his head was, "Are they following?" It turned out that they were and they took the hill, but Ben told me that he learned right then that the two key ingredients of leadership are getting out front and trusting your troops to follow.

So leadership is intensely personal. It is not something that you can order and it is not something that you can measure, evaluate, and test. It is a property like loyalty or trust. It cannot be bought or inherited. It must be earned, and earned through long and often painful experience. It can, however, be lost in an instant. All you need to do is to stop behaving like a leader. Then your followers will stop following. They may continue to obey you, but you will soon sense that you no longer have their loyalty and trust. You can only tell if you are a leader by what happens: you are leading and they are following their leader.

What sets leaders apart from everyone else is that they have followers, and what attracts followers is a challenging and rewarding goal. It is impossible to be an effective leader without being committed to a cause that animates you and motivates your followers. Your energy and drive then come from your personal commitment to accomplish this objective.

This can't be just any goal—it must be something that you feel strongly about and will strive to accomplish. You must be sufficiently committed to this goal so that you can exhort your troops to achieve it, in spite of all obstacles. While development projects can have this character, that is not always the case. But, as we shall see, it is usually possible to excite creative people about the challenges and rewards of producing something entirely new and original.

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