This Forbes article really got me thinking about the overlap between management and leadership. I’ve come to the conclusion that the difference lies in the manager/leader approach to rules.
One of the reasons managers get to be managers is their efficiency and dedication to the company’s ethos – note, though, that in the case of a manager, for ethos we might really read rulebook.
Leaders, on the other hand, know that the rulebook is there to serve the ethos. It is a tool, a secure platform to work from. To use a theatre analogy, a playwright might stick like glue to the timeless Classical unities – the ancient rulebook of theatre – without producing a work of drama that does anything remotely interesting. To succeed in business, we need to do things that are interesting, original, ingenious. Like an inspired playwright, we must push the boundaries and test the rules.
Of course, it’s no good discarding the rulebook altogether. A rulebook is – or should be – the distillation of years, decades, even centuries of experience. Many rules are rules for a good reason – adhere to them, and you’re unlikely to drop any real clangers. A good rulebook is a thing of wisdom. But bear in mind that what is novel and ingenious today might well become wisdom tomorrow – because it works so well. And this is where breaking the rules comes in.
A good leader knows that breaking the rules is OK. In fact, more than OK – it’s necessary to move things forward. A manager, on the other hand, keeps things ticking over, respecting the wisdom of the rulebook day after day. But eventually that rulebook will be stale, and if your workforce is made up solely of managers, your company will become stale too. We need leaders who will write the future rulebooks – which the next generation of leaders will rewrite in turn.