Many people think of "leadership" and "management" as interchangeable concepts. But as a 20-year veteran of the executive recruitment industry and now CEO of an executive search firm, CTPartners, I have seen first-hand that there is a vast divide between them.
Let me start by explaining what I mean by these two terms. Leadership is innovative, creative and, above all else, proactive. When CEOs are effective leaders, they anticipate problems and opportunities; they motivate and develop strategic responses; and they actively involve themselves in the implementation of action-oriented plans.
In contrast, management is a reactive tool to whatever situations happen to crop up. When problems develop, these executives respond. When they pursue action, it's on familiar terrain or through time-tested strategies.
Throughout the global marketplace, there are plenty of corporations and other organizations with people who I would characterize as "managers" at the helm. Is that acceptable? I don't think so. Because the stakes are so high, I believe that the global debate over leadership vs. management should be an essential one for all of us: executives and CEOs, board directors, institutional and individual investors, members of the media, and others involved in the business community.
Why settle for a "manager" whose goal is, basically, to maintain the status quo? After all, the mission of a "leader" is to reinvent, so that the organization he or she directs – and every person who works within it – continuously become better.
Here's an example from my own career. Some observers have characterized the executive search industry as an oligopoly, with a handful of major players that are big, global and perhaps even indistinguishable. These companies don't tend to make bold movements.
Business as usual means, among other things, keeping a veil of secrecy over their placement rates. Traditionally clients have had no way of measuring how successful recruitment firms like these are when it comes to placing the right executive in the "empty chair".
When I came to CTPartners as its CEO in September 2004, I brought a vision that this firm could change the way our industry has functioned for the past fifty years: rewrite the book, if you will, on how a search firm could deliver performance, quality and results. From my early days in office, I worked with our partners to track what clients really wanted and then to figure out how we could give it to them.
We concluded that companies wanted – and deserved – more accountability from search firms. We responded by establishing transparency and accountability as company-wide priorities. This year, CTPartners became the first major search firm to independently audit and disclose its placement rate.
However, as a CEO as well as a search professional, I understand that having vision and demanding results is not enough. Leaders must be able to "sell" their vision and results-orientation to everyone throughout the organization.
This isn't a one-time process. Chief executives need to be able to continually present these messages in such a way that the men and women of their organizations will remain motivated, growing, and achieving at the highest levels of performance.
Strong leaders demand results and, there's no denying this, they shake things up in a way that can make work life more difficult, if also so much more rewarding. Clarity, consistency and effective communications are absolutely essential to making this process succeed.
At CTPartners, the people who work with me know, without any doubt, that my highest priority is delivering results to our clients. No matter how busy I am, I take the time each day to send a congratulatory email or to phone in my praise whenever one of our professionals makes a successful placement. On the flip side, I get involved quickly when someone is failing to meet agreed-upon targets.
There's a complex balancing act that's required in all this. After all, "managers" can, and often do, get bogged down in the mundane. That's one reason why they can't see past their immediate horizons. Some might argue that my celebratory calls and emails fall into that category.
However, the results speak for themselves. CTPartners has gone through a tremendous process of expansion over the past 20 months. We have added many new partners, moved into new global markets and industry sectors, and, along the way, nearly tripled our revenues. Most significantly, though, we have raised our placement rate from 70% in September 2004 to 87% in May 2006.
When it comes to the whole issue of leadership vs management, I am firmly convinced that the choices chief executives make – whether they implicitly define their roles and responsibilities as those of a leader or a manager – will have an enormous impact on the paths their organizations will take to success, failure, or mediocrity.