Category Archives: General

Leadership vs Management

This is a continuing series on Leadership Development

In my previous post, I defined what is a leader. I said a leader is someone who uses the skill of power over others towards a vision. The key pieces here being that leadership is a skill that one can get better at. And that leadership involves power with others. We also explored how the Dao De Jing states different forms of leadership or governance and that leadership.

This is important in my job as a leader. At the Monastic Academy (MAPLE), our training aims to develop trustworthy leaders through the integration of Wisdom, Love (Virtue), and Power. As the Executive Director, I hold the pole of Power in the organization leadership most strongly. 

The view in East Asian Buddhism and Daoism is that one indicator for a trustworthy person to have power is that they are the ones who least want it. Power is a resource, is a skill, is a means to achieve particular ends. But, when power becomes its own end then we have a lot of problems. Just as money, fame, or health as its own ends can become unhealthy so can power. A healthy integration is possible. We can use money, power, fame as a conditional means to achieve a higher aim such as wisdom and compassion for all beings.

So far, we have established a leader is one who holds power over people. They direct a group of people towards a vision, they provide direction. At MAPLE, we train trustworthy leaders who can wield power responsibly with wisdom and virtue such that power never becomes its own end but rather a means to greater good.

However, I did not address that there are different forms of power over others. Leadership is one specific form. But what about a teacher with students? What about a manager?

Reading this article in the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, What Leaders Really Do, they differentiate between a manager and a leader. Both hold power. Both work with groups. Both are needed to run effective organizations and causes. But, there is a difference. As John P. Kotter writes:

LEADERSHIP IS DIFFERENT FROM MANAGEMENT, but not for the reasons most people think. Leadership isn’t mystical and mysterious. It has nothing to do with having “charisma” or other exotic personality traits. It is not the province of a chosen few. Nor is leadership necessarily better than management or a replacement for it. Rather, leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. Each has its own function and characteristic activities. Both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment….

Management is about coping with complexity. Its practices and procedures are largely a response to one of the most significant developments of the twentieth century: the emergence of large organizations. Without good management, complex enterprises tend to become chaotic in ways that threaten their very existence. Good management brings a degree of order and consistency to key dimensions like the quality and profitability of products. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Part of the reason it has become so important in recent years is that the business world has become more competitive and more volatile…The net result is that doing what was done yesterday, or doing it 5% better, is no longer a formula for success. Major changes are more and more necessary to survive and compete effectively in this new environment. More change always demands more leadership….

…Since change is the function of leadership, being able to generate highly energized behavior is important for coping with the inevitable barriers to change. Just as direction setting identifies an appropriate path for movement and just as effective alignment gets people moving down that path, successful motivation ensures that they will have the energy to overcome obstacles. According to the logic of management, control mechanisms compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected. In a well-managed factory, for example, this means the planning process establishes sensible quality targets, the organizing process builds an organization that can achieve those targets, and a control process makes sure that quality lapses are spotted immediately, not in 30 or 60 days, and corrected. For some of the same reasons that control is so central to management, highly motivated or inspired behavior is almost irrelevant. Managerial processes must be as close as possible to fail-safe and risk-free. That means they cannot be dependent on the unusual or hard to obtain. The whole purpose of systems and structures is to help normal people who behave in normal ways to complete routine jobs successfully, day after day. It’s not exciting or glamorous…Leadership is different. Achieving grand visions always requires a burst of energy. Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals.
(bolding is mine)

Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

Thus, a leader deals even more in the uncertainty of change and newness. A leader is precisely the leader because that’s the person everyone turns to when it’s not clear what to do anymore. 

A manager “manages”. They make sure everything is on schedule, on track with plans. 

A leader “leads”. They are the ones who set the direction, who set the vision of where the group is going in the first place before any plans are made. A leader is the one who clarifies what and why we are doing anything.

Both managers and leaders deal with power in a group. While there are many managers out there, there are less true leaders. 

If I reflect on my own life, I would say I had a lot of self-leadership and was a manager in previous jobs, but it’s only at MAPLE that I truly started growing to become a leader of a group. As long as we are not the ones setting the vision, setting the direction, as long as we’re operating within pre-existing norms and systems then we are not a leader but rather a manager. To be sure, being a good manager is very difficult and needed in groups too. But, these days, and Kotter would agree, most organizations are “over-managed and underled”.

While Kotter is talking about the business and corporate world, leadership is important for everyone’s life. Especially in society today as the rate of global change accelerates. It is more important than ever to cultivate leadership qualities and not depend on the collapsing systems of what has worked before. As we face more uncertainty with each growing year, the necessity for strong, good leaders grows as well. 

In future posts, given the need for leaders and the countless “leadership development” programs out there, we will explore why don’t we have more good leaders? What are the blocks?

What is a Leader? (new series)

For a series of posts, I am exploring the topic of leadership. What is it? Why is leadership important? Why do we have such a hard time with leadership development? How do you train leadership? 

This is an important question because the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth (MAPLE) is a mindfulness and leadership development center. I am the Executive Director and Assistant Teacher (as of Sept 2020), so my job is to be the leader here and train other leaders.

In the past, I’ve explored a lot in terms of entrepreneurship, personal development, and strategy. But, I’m discovering that there is a lot to leadership that most people rarely explore.

So, let’s begin with a basic question.

What is a Leader?

Leadership is the skill of power to bring individuals together towards a vision, a direction that they could not have done alone. At least not as effectively. 

Leadership specifically seems to connote power over a group. For example, we would not call a solo-entrepreneur a leader. It doesn’t make sense to call a single doctor a leader. When we say leader, we imagine an army captain as the leader of their platoon, a mayor as leader of a city government, a sports captain as a leader of their team, or the CEO as a leader of a corporation

Leadership also specifically addresses the dynamic of power over people.

How to Become a Leader? Types of Leaders & Power

There are of course many forms of power over people. A common stereotype of leadership is the threat of physical violence to coerce people to do the leader’s bidding. This is how most dictatorships or monarchies work. This brute power is historically the most common form of leadership in early human civilizations. This is elementary school power. But, according to the Dao De Jing, this is in the long run, the worst form of power for governing a society:

True leaders
are hardly known to their followers.
Next after them are the leaders
the people know and admire;
after them, those they fear;
after them, those they despise.

To give no trust
is to get no trust.

When the work’s done right,
with no fuss or boasting,
ordinary people say,
“Oh, we did it”.

Ursula Le Guinn translation of DDJ Chapter 17

Normally, leaders who are despised and followed only through terror only last one generation at most. If a leader is despised then people will plot to get rid of you as soon as possible. 

Of course, most of us are not living in early civilizations. We encounter leadership more in academia, politics, and business. In these artificial, civilized organizations, power is tied with roles and titles. We consider power as given to you in the form of a position like Manager or VP by a higher powerful entity like a President or Board. In this type of delegated power, people are placing their faith in the organization itself rather than the leader. To advance in a large bureaucracy like this, your reputation matters more than your actual merits. It makes sense to get into good graces of the higher-ups by manipulating people’s perception of you. However, I would say our civilized tendency to conflate leadership power with organizational positions is a problem. Being promoted and having a rank or title doesn’t make you a good leader.. 

True leadership comes from earning respect from the followers. Major Winters, featured in the incredible TV Mini-series Band of Brothers, talks about this form of leadership based on respect of followers:

The key to successful leadership is to earn respect — not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character. In the military, the president of the United States may nominate you as a commissioned officer, but he cannot command for you the loyalty and confidence of your soldiers. Those you must earn by giving loyalty to your soldiers and providing for their welfare. Properly led and retreated right, your lowest-ranking soldier is capable of extraordinary acts of valor. Ribbons, medals, and accolades, then, are poor substitutes to the ability to look yourself in the mirror every night and know that you did your best. You can see the look of respect in the eyes of the men who have worked for you.

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters

Many people think you get power and leadership by getting a rank, a position, a role. But, a rank (ideally) is only an external signal of the power. True power, true leadership stems from the followers giving away the power. In a company, employees may follow a manager because they value their paycheck more than good leadership. But, without the respect of the follower, the leader will never be as effective.

This respect is earned by being competent, by knowing your team, by making good decisions, by having good character. This high standard of character means remaining humble rather than beloved. We will explore further in future posts on how to become a great leader.

For now, it seems odd that the Dao De Jing however states a higher form of leadership is the leader who is merely known to exist but the followers assign power and achievements to themselves or nature. How is it that the beloved, respected leader is even an inferior form to this barely-known leader?

This barely known leader is the best form of leadership when it promotes leadership up and down the hierarchy. When the conditions are set up such that everyone can take a little self-leadership to do what’s right. Thereby, it seems that no leader was ever involved.

Even with beloved, respected leaders, there is the potential danger of the followers becoming reliant on the leader for everything. Rather than cultivating their self-leadership, they place their full trust and agency onto the leader. While this is good if the leader is virtuous and wise, this reliance on the leader falls short of an organization that can create more empowered leaders.

Thus, at the Monastic Academy, our intention is to create awakened leaders rather than awakened followers. 

Now we have established this ideal form of leadership and the necessity of leaders to create more leaders. In future posts, we will cover what are the roadblocks to becoming a leader? I will break down more how do you gain the respect of a team? What are the qualities and sub-skills of Leadership?  How do you train more leadership?

And what is the difference between forms of group power such as a manager versus a leader? How does MAPLE train leadership?

How to Not Be a Tyrant

Part of the contract of being a resident at the Monastic Academy is to give and receive feedback to each other.

We even have a role “Ops” whose job is to hold the integrity of the group and be the last line of discipline to enforce rules and norms. This takes the form of feedback.

People in Ops discover that they are either too harsh or too passive.

Recently, I was asked how to navigate between being responsible for giving feedback and also not wanting to hurt others and just stroke one’s own ego.

I responded there are two criteria at a minimum to check:

(a) Do I care about this person?

(b) Am I open to receiving feedback about how I gave feedback?

The first is to make sure that feedback is coming out of compassion for the group rather than advancing our own egos. The second is to make sure we, ourselves, are not hypocrites.

Note, I did not include, “does the receiver want the feedback?” I don’t think that’s valid here where everyone already agreed to receive feedback. However, an alternative might be, “Is this person capable of receiving this feedback?” Although if they are consistently demonstrating not being able to receive feedback then this is not a good place for them.

Don’t Try, Be

Recently, I was listening to an interview between two comedians on the Pete Holmes podcast. They talked about how “trying to be funny” is not funny. When going on stage, just be yourself. Just be Pete Holmes. Pete Holmes is funny.

What a good lesson.

So often, I see others including myself “trying to do a good job.” It could be leading a mindfulness or circling session. It could be trying to lead a team. But, the “trying” feels bad for everyone.

The trying conveys nervousness, discomfort. When the leader is “trying” then nobody feels safe, it’s clear the leader does not know what he is doing AND he’s not confident in navigating this unknown.

By the time we are at the execution phase, once we’re “on stage”, it’s too late to try anymore. The time for training and practice is before the big event. You don’t want to be practicing during the match. Now, it’s time to surrender, to let go, to trust, to manifest.

Sometimes, people say I’m a good communicator or teacher or facilitator. I know I have a lot of weaknesses: I tend to mumble my words when I’m unsure. I tend to focus too much on others.

Yet, one thing I don’t have much trouble with is just letting things happen and give the impression of being in control. Everyone feels safe and willing to go along with things if it feels like the leader is in control.

Before the big event, before the big presentation, it’s time to let go. All the training and preparation had to happen beforehand. No longer try to be good, just be yourself. “Trying” in the moment won’t make you any better, trying will only make it worse.

Superpowers and Downfalls of Over Worrying

In the last year, I realized I have a pervasive habit of over worrying. A neurological, physiological childhood trauma around not feeling safe, not feeling protected, always on the lookout.

On one hand, this constant worrying has served me well. I can quickly assess potential risks and come up with mitigating plans to make things okay. It makes me good at project management and taking on a lot of responsibility. I’ll have already imagined every possibility so the worst outcomes don’t happen.

On the other hand, it’s too much. I can feel the tension and holding in my body almost always present. It relaxes in rare times of social bonding, intimacy, and deep meditation. After years of meditation, therapy, and all kinds of training, I can feel it viscerally now and work through the process consciously. It doesn’t rule my life but living from a trusting, naked vulnerable place is still a daily, long process for me that I’m chipping away at day by day, sit by sit, circle by circle.

When I surrender and the tension melts in my core, my pelvis, my hips, my groin, my legs, my spine, I’m more alive. The room feels more detailed. My attention is more in the world. I feel more free.

As a kid, I couldn’t adequately process the daily ups and downs with anyone. My parents weren’t skilled or available. I didn’t have many friends or family or others. So, I cut off and numbed and deadened myself from my physical and emotional self. Something that I see over and over with most men of American modernity suffer from. As an adult now in my early 30s, I’m learning to re-parent myself. To get past the judgments and fears, to experience the raw tension and befriend the resistance, the old coping mechanisms, and allow a different way to be tried instead.

It’s hard work. Some days, I’m tired of how many thousands of hours do I have to do this? But my life has definitely improved in almost every facet over the years as I work through this trauma and stuck pattern. Whereas before it might take months and special retreats to even notice this pattern consciously, I can feel it and work with it on a daily basis now.

And I imagine all my family, friends, and everyone with their own small traumas, their own stuck ways, their own prisons. It can so often seem impossible, just the way it is. Maybe a biological quirk or genetic quirk. But, the courage to explore and try something different. To face that dissociated, disconnected, split off parts of ourselves and re-integrate them. That work enables us, empowers us to have more energy, more freedom, more love, and more life.