During my years as a civilian under cover as military working with army and Marine units in Vietnam, I learned by observing that leadership works far better than management. The military teach their officers and non-commissioned officers to lead. That means motivating subordinates to be the best they can be, to excel, to surpass their own limitations.
So once I returned to the National Security Agency (NSA) after my years in Vietnam, I was assigned to head organizations as large as a division of several hundred people. I taught my subordinate managers to lead, not to manage. As a result, our technicians (analysts and linguists) outdid themselves, achieving amazing results.
But leadership was not favored by the federal government including NSA executives. Despite all the successes of my people, NSA’s top managers found my techniques scandalous. I was called before the deputy director (a civilian; the director was always a general or admiral, but the real management was done by the civilian) and counseled that my job was to control people, keep them in line, stop them from getting out of hand. I was undeterred and continued to lead rather than manage. The results my people achieved were so superior that I kept getting promoted, granted begrudgingly, until I was at the top of the senior executive ranks. I was able to retire with a generous annuity that allowed me to write fulltime without any money worries. That resulted in six books and 17 short stories now in print.
I continue to believe to this day that treating people in a way that stresses their positive qualities encourages them to do their best. My record of achievement is strong evidence that my belief is correct.
So I urge all managers to become leaders. Believe me, it pays off.
2 thoughts on “Leadership vs. Management”
I tried to follow your example throughout my career, Tom, with similar results. My people loved the style, but my superiors consistently found fault with it. Probably the highest compliment I ever received was third-hand reports from friends that subordinates of mine had remarked that I was the best boss they ever had. The method does indeed work.
Thanks so much, John. So good to hear from you. Hope all is well.