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The Importance of Being Ordinary by Sarah Storm

Welcome to the second guest post in this series responding to the statement that “There is no such thing as Management”.

This post comes from Sarah Storm – someone I’ve recently come to know through Twitter (@_sarahsto_). Sarah brings across a great perspective on the roles of leadership, management and the OD professional – I especially like her point on the impact of terminology.  I hope you enjoy it too!

The Importance of Being Ordinary

Close your eyes. Now think of those special people who have moved you, or others, to act from the gut. Those are the leaders.

Rather than management being leadership in disguise, my perception is that leadership has become a catch-all term for management. Managing was just too ordinary.

There are many managers, fewer directors, and very few leaders. And that’s the way it should be. If all of the people we call “leaders” really lived up to the billing we would be trying to run in several directions at once. Maybe that’s our problem.

Not all leaders qualify for that description as a consequence of their position in the hierarchy. Some are leaders because of the person they are and occasionally the two (hierarchy and gifts) coincide in a positive way. Sometimes it seems that we use the term leader to mean a good manager and forget for a moment that leadership can be malign. As well as the dictators and despots in history there are the examples of the CEO whose incapacity to trust and bullying behaviour cascades through an organisation, rendering worthless the time and the money invested in OD interventions with the opposite intent.

Nor is a successful leader always a good manager. They inspire their followers through force of character, charisma, clarity of vision, and are able to get away with flaws which would be the downfall of others.

The problem with over use is that it diminishes the specialness of true leaders and at the same time undervalues the importance of the managers who need to deliver every day. We desperately need people who can manage well and there is a risk that the focus on leadership can distract from developing enlightened and effective managers who can be a positive force for change.

It’s tempting for the OD profession to reflect this terminology inflation. Rather than change leaders could we not be change facilitators or change advisers? Instead of thought leaders how about thought influencers? OK, it doesn’t trip off the tongue but the impact to the society and organisations we aspire to improve could be just as great.


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