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Management, Leadership, and Innovation

At Finishing School, there was a fair amount of discussion about Management vs. Leadership: Management being a control mechanism, and Leadership being a direction mechanism. This balance was reflected in the M in the MBA degree, and L in the department name. However, in real life I run into many situations where people resist control or don't follow. The default assumption seems to be that if people resist, the manager lacks skills, and if they don't follow, the leader lacks charisma or social intelligence. Therefore, the finishing schools are making big bucks teaching people how to manage and lead.

More often than not though, when management and leadership don't produce results, there is an impasse or block. In individuals an impasse can be the result of fear, personality, over emphasis on character, etc. An organization might be blocked by structure, habit, control mechanisms, or lack of resources. When an impasse occurs, often times management asserts itself, but this makes the problem worse, as it reinforces the blocking mechanism. Leadership is the better tool, but because it is relies on inspiration, it can be weak.

So what can we do? Basically, this is the where the missing leg of the stool comes in. The third leg is the therapeutic aspect, but a more active and approachable term is coaching. The role of the coach is not to manipulate, dictate, or inspire. The role of the coach is to raise awareness. When individuals and organizations become more aware of themselves, the blocks typically resolve on their own. The reason is that an impasse is normally maladaptive behavior that distances the individual or organization from reality, thus they are responding to a disconnected and imagined reality.

(This is not to discount the role of imagination in leadership and creativity. There is a difference between being well grounded in reality and imagining a future that we can aspire to. I am talking about a sterile imagination that inhibits creative action. We all know what it feels like to be around people and organizations that are stuck vs. creative and fun ones.)

There is a lot talk these days about innovation. Every Linked In group under the sun has someone with a theory about how to make innovation happen. A recipe, and technique, a system. However, the solutions are typically based on the false assumption that innovation can be "made" to happen. If you buy into much of this advice, you will have a double impasse, yours, and the original maladaptive behavior. When you see lack of innovation, look for what is blocking, and try to raise awareness. Once the block gives way, then you can use your management and leadership skills you paid so dearly for.

What I am saying implies that innovation is a natural and healthy response to our environment, not a program or procedure. Like all living things, you cannot command or lead them to grow. If you don't believe me, try it on your house plant. I'll stick to sunshine, water, and nutrients.

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