Leading vs Managing

The building was 150-plus years old. The years had taken a toll. Several efforts had been made to modernize it. Some worked, some didn’t, and some created more problems than they solved. Even so, it was structurally sound, and it stood as a local landmark.

A small group of interested people wanted to restore it and develop it into a museum. Their first task was to hire a restoration project manager. After the first round of interviews, they had three finalists. Each candidate provided a careful and thorough report of what needed to be done. They also outlined what a project manager would need to do. Although not exactly the same, their interviews were similar enough that the committee felt any of them could be a good project manager. They had to decide who’d be best.

One day, a member of the interview committee was driving past the building, and he saw a pick-up sitting beside it. He pulled in, and as he did, he saw a lady looking in one of the windows. Rolling down his window, he asked, “Can I help you?”

She said she hadn’t met the application deadline for the position of project leader, and just wanted to see the opportunity she had missed. He picked up on how she referred to the position as a project LEADER rather than a project manager. He offered to let her inside for a closer look.

As they walked through, she took several pictures. She explained that when she approaches a project, she first works to understand the overall goal of it. She said that’s usually pretty easy, once you understand the basics of construction and restoration. She then shared that she uses pictures to determine what needs to be done and in what order she would proceed. To him that sounded like what the other candidates had told the committee. It’s what she said next that caught his attention.

“For me the fun begins when I can start planning how I’m going to do what needs to be done. Every restoration project has a goal. What I like doing is planning the objectives to address that goal, then developing the plans for how to meet them.” She emphasized the word HOW.

She then shared, “I build initial plans along with contingency plans for when I run into the inevitable problems and complications associated with restoration projects. That’s where I get the chance to lead rather than just manage a project.” He liked what he heard, and he wanted to hear more.

He asked if she’d be willing to meet the other member of committee. She said she would, but reminded him again that she had missed the deadline. He said that wasn’t a major concern for him, and he told her to expect a call soon.

A meeting was set, and she agreed to come. She began by telling them that she wouldn’t waste their time telling them all that needed to be done. Instead, she focused her attention and theirs on how she’d address the obvious stages of the project.  She talked about her multiple-plans approach for how to best address each phase of the restoration. She was specific, naming certain contractors she’d consult, and special pieces of equipment she felt would render both effective and efficient service throughout the project. In short, she explained how she’d LEAD and not just manage, the project. They hired her on the spot.

Over the next two years, she definitely demonstrated committed leadership. When unexpected problems and unanticipated complications made adjustment necessary, she had the backup plans to make them happen. In each instance, it was clear that she had developed her backup plans with the same care and attention that she had given her initial plans. The project was a success coming in on budget and six months earlier than expected. At the start of the project, they were looking for a restoration manager, but throughout the project they were guided by a restoration leader.

When interviewed at the museum dedication, she was asked to describe the role she played. She described it this way. “Whether trying to guide myself through life or leading a complex restoration initiative, I’m not content to just manage. Managers participate, leaders guide and direct. Managers are engaged, leaders are committed.  Managers build a plan, leaders build multiple plans, so they can adapt and adjust when, where, and as needed.”

Whether leading yourself or an organization through a project or an initiative, first determine your goal and the various objectives needed to fulfill it. Then build contingency plans so you can adapt and adjust if and when necessary. As Ben Franklin so aptly put it: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

2 thoughts on “Leading vs Managing”

  1. She certainly was committed to the project and possessed the knowledge to accomplish her and the committees goals. The difference in education is the Board is the committee and it changes every two years. It is another challenge that educators face in leading since the Board has final decision power We are often inhibited , yet, we still try and lead no matter the challenges.

    1. Avatar
      Michael McGough

      As you say, leading is most certainly not challenge free. The leaders who set an example worthy of emulation are those who can and will lead through the challenges. It is within the challenges that those leaders often find the best opportunities to lead themselves and the organizations they serve. Thanks for your insightful comment!

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