sand dunes and lagoons area in FlorianópolisWe often conflate management and leadership. In times of stability, I think that’s acceptable – the divide between sensitive management and leadership is limited in those conditions.

It changes when things get tough.

Good management is a vital tool, it makes a huge competitive difference when we are in markets with many similar features, products and services. However, it deals largely with what we can see, in the shallows.

Beyond the shallows is deep water. We can’t see there from where we are, We have to go there.

In the shallows, we know pretty much what to look for. The species are catalogued, analysed, understood.

In the deep, it’s different. We still know more about space than we do about our deep oceans. I suspect the same holds true for our business ecosystems. In the deeps lies the relationships between environment, technology, and evolution; and that’s a heady mix. It will change our markets out of all recognition, and faster than we think.

Our plans for the future will have to be based on what we believe, and not just not what we can see. It is the stuff of meaning and purpose.

As leaders, we have to know what that is for us, and act accordingly.

The Rooted Leader

Autumn Storm

It seems pretty stormy right now.

Here in Europe, it’s mid winter, with the politics exhibiting an equal lack of warmth.

Which takes me to leadership. Outside my window, the trees are bending in the wind, but the trees don’t move (It’s not, after all, Middle Earth).

It seems a reasonable metaphor for leadership. The trees are both rooted, and connected and in it for the long haul.  (If you haven’t seen it, there’s a beautiful short video on the “Wood Wide Web” from the BBC that describes this eloquently)

Leaders are like trees. They’re grounded, connected, and up for the storm.

Managers are different. They’re highly mobile. Most of us here on LinkedIn will have made, or be making, our living as itinerant managers.

According to the FT, we need to plan for five careers in a lifetime, and all the indications are that number itself is a short term forecast.  For my own part, I’ve managed businesses in five different sectors in five different countries. The management skills are very similar, but leadership is very different. We are unlikely to adopt five different sets of values in our lifetime, and for our lives to be meaningful, there will be a path we are trying to discern that matches the values we have. There is a thread we are looking for in order to follow.

Managing people and systems is largely a process. There is good practice, templates, training courses, and increasingly, automation. It values certainty and predictability.

Leadership is a commitment to a set of values and beliefs. It comes into its own in times of uncertainty and unpredictability. People will only seriously follow you if you take root where they are. Share their values. Commit to their welfare. Take a stand. Be grounded and rooted.

You can train to be a manager, but have to believe in something to be a leader.

We are entering a period where certainty and predictability are in short supply.

Leaders are needed. Managers we can hire.

Time to take root in what matters to you.


A weekend thought on curiosity.

At around age two, we begin to get a sense of our “self”; of the idea that we are unique in the world. It is a time of wonder, curiosity and infinite possibility. Children ask on average well over 100 questions a day, as those of us who are parents and grandparents understand at a deep and excruciating level. (my own personal favourite? “Grandpa, when you turn the light off, where does the light go?”)

By age 5, this starts to fall off a cliff. (Image, Warren Berger, “Book of Beautiful Questions)

Then they start formal education, where supplying the right answer is more important than asking beautiful questions. (there’s a great, if depressing song from Harry Chapin Carpenter below)

We start to test them, to understand how they compare, and to prepare for a life in the economy.

The job of a great early years teacher is to protect the joy and curiosity of the two year old and give it the resilience to survive the next two decades of formal education, because in the economy that is emerging where we have no idea what jobs will look like in ten years time, that two year old attitude to curiosity will be vital to both performance and a fulfilled life.

Perhaps, one of our jobs as leaders, as the economy changes, is to go find and enable the latent three year old in those who work alongside us.