Not long ago I was speaking with the operations VP of a large firm about an upcoming opportunity. She described the reporting structure of the position and then went on to add that they had not decided if the position would be a director or a manager. Intellectually, that is an interesting proposition. Different titles for the same duties. The key here is in the different authorities.
One title asks for leadership and offers the authority (and obligation) to see and act for growth while the other aggressively acts as the gatekeeper of a defined program, division or process. In short, management has an inward focus while leadership needs to keep a more external view. In the real world, that analysis represents a gross oversimplification, but it serves as a solid starting point.
Superficially, military planning is goal driven. Realistically, goals or objectives are only part of a triad. Real success must account for constraints and restraints. Constraints are what we must do along the way. Restraints are what we cannot do—the rules of engagement. Together, objectives, constraints and restraints define the planning and execution problem. A leadership mindset sees constraints and restraints as bills to pay on the way towards the external goal. The management perspective is quite different. Constraints and restraints are the bookends defining the range of his or her authority and responsibility in meeting success. Goals are important, but the manager’s goals fall between the bookends.
Leadership and management are often lumped together as a graded category in personnel evaluations, blurring the distinctive traits and values of each. Particularly during peacetime, this results in confusing great management with great leadership potential. The inevitable result is an organization that meets every standard in day to day operations, yet fails any dynamic test due to a lack of available leadership. In this capacity, a peacetime military unit is no different than a corporate division with steady-state workloads where efficiency commands a greater value than innovation. Not so with a military unit mobilizing for combat or a corporate operations, supply chain, or sales division. The transition to a combat footing or a major production change within a business unit is heralded by the release of individuals lacking the agility to recognize that the goals no longer fall between the bookends of constraints and restraints.
The value placed on leadership is not an indictment of the managerial skill set. Realistically, all jobs above entry level require a day to day balance between leadership and management. The key is in recognizing the difference and using the right tools. Long-term success as a manager requires a more technical focus whereas the factors in overall leadership success are more esoteric. Each position requires a set of particular personality traits to succeed. Failure to match traits properly to any position inevitably ends in the candidate either failing without ever understanding the full scope of responsibility or leaving after chaffing at the restrictions. The VP of operations I spoke with was deliberating a simple duty title but understood that those words matter. A one-word label in a title or job description can make all the difference in a successful match.