6 Jul

Being president versus doing president

Last month I attended the inaugural Ohio Student Affairs Conference at Wright State University in Dayton.  As part of the conference, Rebeckah Hester (Indiana University East director of campus life) and I gave a presentation on breaking down silos to bridge student affairs and advancement through a shared vision of lifetime engagement.

My favorite presentation from the conference was “Management Boot Camp: Strategies for Increasing Management Effectiveness” by Dr. Marcia Venus, a Dayton-based organizational consultant.  She referenced the work of James P. Eicher in comparing management to leadership:

Management is “the skills need to motivate people to act based on the performance of the organization both in terms of its operations and its financial well-being. It requires action based on present needs. Implicit with the focus on the present is that the manager functions effectively in an environment of some certainty – personal, financial, marketplace, and organizational.”

Leadership, in contrast, is “the skills needed to motivate people to act based on the growth and fulfillment of the mission of the organization, both in terms of its operations and its financial well-being. Leadership requires action based on future needs. Implicit in the focus on the future is that the leader functions effectively in an environment of some uncertainty – personal, financial, marketplace, and organizational.”

This comparison really made me think. I have mostly adhered to the Seth Godin philosophy that looks down on management as “making widgets” versus leadership which is about “creating change.”  We aspire to be leaders, not managers; but these terms don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  In fact, isn’t leadership actually the delicate interplay of both management (focus on the present) and leadership (focus on the future)?

In The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven Sample, president emeritus of USC, provides a dose of reality for those determined to spend their time as true leaders working on issues that really count.  His 70/30 formula for leadership states that “under ideal conditions up to 30 percent of a leader’s time can be spent on really substantive matters, and no more than 70 percent of his time should be spent reacting to or presiding over trivial, routine or ephemeral matters.”  Sample calls the surprising formula the difference between being president and doing president.

There is danger in new leaders delegating the small stuff, because it eventually becomes big stuff.  The leader, in turn, becomes victim to a “dragon born of minutiae which could have easily been slain in its infancy.”  Putting aside the most important and/or interesting work in order to address “the urgent (but often ephemeral) and sometimes trivial demands of others” can be frustrating, but is necessary to survive and maintain your effectiveness over the long haul.  Sound advice from Sample.

On the flip side, he warns that the day-to-day things can easily begin to chip away at the precious time spent on substance.  It requires enormous discipline to maintain the substantive component of your job (e.g., independent thinking, inspiring your followers) near the 30 percent level.

In our department, we like to say that “everything matters,” meaning that Advancement is the sum total of everything we do.  We realize that there’s often not a clear distinction between the significant and the not-so-significant.  Sometimes we manage; sometimes we lead; often we do both.  I think this philosophy meshes well with the takeaways from Venus’ presentation and Sample’s book, which both gave me a more realistic outlook on leadership.


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