Yin & Yang: Managers & Leaders 

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You have to go back several thousand years to find the origin of the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang.  The idea that two seemingly opposite things exist and complement each other.  But more than complement, they are connected and interdependent.  To remove one or the other creates an imbalance that wreaks havoc.  I did a quick search on examples of Yin and Yang, and there were several obvious lists; hot and cold, young and old, dark and light.  I found one list that included Democrat and Republican.  I’m not sure we need to go that far.  We might be able to do away with both of those, and the world would remain in balance.

Managers and leaders present the same Yin and Yang paradox.  The two roles are frequently confused or mashed into one.  In fact, the roles are discrete but connected and interdependent.  They are essential to the balance of an organization.   

There are dozens of distinctions but here is my short list:

Managers:

·       They are nearsighted, and that is a good thing.  They live “in the weeds.”

·       They create the guardrails that keep the train on the tracks

·       They monitor the gauges to prevent pressure buildup

·       They maintain the status quo

·       They focus on risk mitigation

Leaders:

·       They maintain a deeper gaze on the horizon

·       They are comfortable drawing outside the lines

·       They lose their effectiveness in the weeds

·       They feel a compulsion to challenge the status quo

·       They are risk takers

The two roles require a different skillset and a different mindset.  The two skillsets can, and sometimes do, exist in the same person. However, you can see how a manager might be less effective in their attempt to lead or vice versa.  Understanding the difference is important to ensure the “right team member is sitting in the right seat on the bus.”

Now, imagine a company of all leaders and no managers.  That organization would likely lack the attention span to get the product to market and would miss the red flag warnings they were about to derail.  They might have the best vision in the world and never get the chance to change the world.

Same exercise now with managers.  The organization is likely to be so focused on monitoring and adjusting to the incremental change in gauges that they forget to look at the horizon.  Their protection of the status quo will leave them lagging behind their competitors, as innovation takes a back seat, and as too risky.

Yin and Yang.  Managers and leaders are inextricably tied together in a balance that creates harmony within the organization.  Don’t mistake the two but never forget the two.