What’s Your Style of Oversight?

Somewhere along the way, when conversation addresses overseeing a group of people, a distinction between two kinds of oversight will be made. Different people will use different terms, but in general, the line is drawn between those who communicate vision and values and those who communicate structure and detail.

Terms in this Post

For my purpose here, I will use the two terms: Manager and Leader. A manager, in this post, will refer to the one who makes sure you do exactly as he or she tells you. The leader, in this post, will refer to the one who gives you the direction and vision, then expects you to run with it.

Everyone feels like the leader is superior, right? If you want a company to grow, you better empower people, so, yeah, leading is better than managing.

Or is it?

Let’s contrast a couple of companies for a moment.

Let’s think about Apple and Google. Do you see management in them or leadership? Naturally, they have both.

If you read the books detailing the early days of the PC revolution, you will see that Steve Jobs was a visionary from the start. And when you hold any smart phone in your hand, you are holding the vision of Steve.

But was Steve a leader or was he a manager in those days? Apart from speaking of Jobs’ visionary qualities, those early tech histories speak of how demanding Steve was; of how exacting he was concerning the way the earliest MACs were to run. Stories abound of the inflexibility of Steve in reference to deadlines, details, and hours worked. This doesn’t feel like leadership, in the way we’re using the term. It feels like management.  Micromanagement.

It would seem that Steve found himself in the position of looking over the shoulder of programmers until the end. The protocol he put in place in the Apple App Store serves as an example. To this day, it takes a good deal of time to have an app approved for the iOS. And until then, there’s no way to use it, shy of rooting (jail-breaking) your device. The iOS is a system led by the vision of Steve Jobs and protected by the management of the same man.

Does Google work that way? At times. However, when I look from here, I see a bit less management and more leadership. That may explain why some things are so sloppy: Google Plus’ way of uploading photos to live events is an example.

The story of Ingress would lead us to believe that Google finds creative people, connects them with their values and vision, and sets them free to create. John Hanke worked in Google’s Geo division and then, ready to start another venture, was saying goodbye to Google. But when Google heard of Hanke’s idea, they took it on as their own project, letting him do what he wanted with Google’s resources. The concept fit with Google’s values and vision, so they let the game begin. This is more leadership than management.

The Google Play Store serves as another example. There is less screening of applications at the Play Store than at Apple’s App Store. This is dangerous, in that it allows unscrupulous people to upload malware that can be installed on Android devices. But it invites more programmers to the party, to create whatever they like. The result is that the Play Store took little time to catch up with Apple’s “There’s an App for that” mantra. Play Store leadership rather than management was what was needed in those years.

And to this day you can install any APK you find onto your android device without rooting it. You simply uncheck a check-box and your device is capable of accepting software from any source. Capable and vulnerable. Leadership has its risks.

Okay — Here’s the Point

I’m not making an argument in the Apple vs Google vs MicroSoft debate. I am using my observation of something with which we’re all pretty familiar to make a point about oversight. The stories of these tech giants illustrate that both styles of oversight were and are used in their successes.

Perhaps the mistake we often make is creating a dichotomy between management and leadership. Both are valuable. Both are even essential. There’s a time to manage. Even to micro-manage. And there’s a time to lead by handing people values and vision and let them fly (or even fail).

Questions About Your Style of Oversight

The question, for many of us, is which style is your default style? Do you tend to manage — even micro manage — by default? Or, do you tend more to talk to people about the end product and let them do, or die. Sometimes management is the right mode. Sometimes leadership is right. Chances are you automatically use one or the other. If you’re unaware of this, you probably won’t be intentional in choosing the right style for the circumstances you are in.

The next question is why? Why do you automatically use the style of oversight you use? If you default to the management style, then you’re probably prone to micro-managing. You probably manage when you should lead without even thinking of it. Or, if your default style is to lead then you might be doing so when you should be managing. This is why you need to ask yourself why? Why do you default to the style you do? I could make suggestions, but if I did that, it might prevent you from doing the soul-searching necessary.

A third question is how? How can you discern which style is needed where and when? That’s the topic for another blog post.

Power Corrupts…

Charles Colson said…

Power is like saltwater; the more you drink, the thirstier you get. The lure of power can separate the most resolute of Christians from the true nature of Christian leadership, which is service to others. It’s difficult to stand on a pedestal and wash the feet of those below. — Charles Colson in Kingdoms in Conflict, p. 274.