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Johanna Rothman helps managers and teams solve problems and deliver products. Her most recent book is Manage your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects. You can read her blogs and other writings at Johanna is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 128 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

How Serving Is Your Leadership?

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I once worked for a manager who thought everyone should bow down and kiss his feet. Okay, I’m not sure if he actually thought that, but that’s how it felt to me. He regularly canceled his one-on-ones with me. He interrupted me when I spoke at meetings. He tried to tell the people in my group what to do. (I put a stop to that, pretty darn quick.)

He undermined my self-confidence and everything I tried to accomplish in my organization.

When I realized what was going on, I gathered my managers. At the time, I was a Director of Many Things. I said, “Our VP is very busy. I think he has too many things on his plate. Here is what I would like to do. If he interrupts your work with a request, politely acknowledge him, and say, “Johanna will put that in our queue. She is managing our project portfolio.” If he interrupts you in a meeting, feel free to manage him the same way you manage me.” That got a laugh. “I am working with him on some customer issues, and I hope to resolve them soon.”

My managers and project managers kept on track with their work. We finished our deliverables, which was key to our success as an organization.

My relationship with my manager however, deteriorated even further. In three months, he canceled every single one-on-one. He was rude to me in every public meeting. I started looking for a new job.

I found a new job, and left my two week notice on his desk. He ran down the hall, swept into my office and slammed the door. He slammed my notice on my desk and yelled at me, “I don’t accept this! You can’t do this to me. You can’t leave. You’re the only director here accomplishing anything.”

I said, “Are you ready to have a one-on-one now?”

He said, “No. I’m busy. I’m too busy for a one-on-one.”

I said, “I’m leaving. We have nothing to discuss. You can put your head in the sand and try to not accept my resignation. Or, we can make my last two weeks here useful. What would you like?”

“You’re not done with me, Rothman!”

He stalked out of my office, and slammed the door on his way out. I got up and opened the door. I was never so happy to leave a job in my entire life.

Some managers don’t realize that they are not their title. Some managers don’t realize that the value they bring is the plus: the management, plus their relationship with their peers, the people they manage, the systems and environment they enable/create. This guy had created an environment of distrust.

That’s what this month’s management myth is all about: believing that I am More Valuable Than Other People.

If you are a manager, you do provide a valuable service: servant leadership. Make sure you do so.

Published at DZone with permission of Johanna Rothman, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Mark Unknown replied on Wed, 2014/06/04 - 3:24pm

So, this is titled about leadership. But it is about management. They are not the same. If management is not "serving" then they cannot be leaders.  Using the terms to mean the same thing leaves no room for non-management leaders and for non-leadership managers. Both are needed.

That being said -

Your were right to leave. He was a bad manager, not a leader - it was all about him.

Johanna Rothman replied on Thu, 2014/06/05 - 8:51am in response to: Mark Unknown

 Hi Mark, You are correct. There is more to leadership than management.

This particular instance was about bad management and bad leadership. If managers are not leaders, they are also bad managers.

To your point, you can lead from anywhere in the organization. If you also have a title that includes manager, you must lead.

Mark Unknown replied on Thu, 2014/06/05 - 10:16am in response to: Johanna Rothman

Sorry, but assuming managers must be leaders means one cannot differentiate between the two. Management is about getting things done. About following process. The ends justify the means.  They have people who work for them.

Leaders who have people who work for them. Leaders work FOR those they lead. Leaders create new process and assume current process is just a guide.

Leadership and Management are like two dueling monsters each other.

What I have seen is that managers who are good leaders tend to get fired.

I work in "IT". Moving into management is a career change. How can a manager lead a team that is more qualified to do the work than them? Can they show leadership in certain areas? Yes. But they cannot %100 lead (not even close). Their job is to provide management - budget, personnel issues, clearing roadblocks.  Leadership can and should come from others on the team.

In the military, the "management" cannot be leaders on the battlefield - if they do, people will get killed. Well more than "should be".

Johanna Rothman replied on Mon, 2014/06/09 - 7:27pm in response to: Mark Unknown

 Mark, when I was a manager inside the organization, I assumed that I did work FOR my people. Yes, as a middle manager, that put me in a sometimes strange position. How could I work for my bosses and work for my people? I had to balance both sides. Here is what I learned:

The ends never justify the means. Never.

If you are not congruent as a manager, balancing yourself, the other person, and the context (the organization), you are an insufficient manager. You are not leading, and you are not a great manager. I have been writing a series of management myths about this for the past 30 months. This article was the intro to one of those myths.

You may have seen good leaders who are managers get fired. I have, too. (I've been fired, also.) I had no regrets about being fired. 

I also have led teams who were technically more competent than I was. I understood the dynamics of what they did. I removed their obstacles. That was my job. Their job was to provide me sufficient information in a way I could understand, so I could fight for what they needed. 

When you lead technical teams, you have to know what you are doing. At some point, if you move into management, you decide: do I want to be a manager? You can change your mind, and move back and forth for a while. No one's career is linear. But, if you do act as a manager, you must be a leader.

That does not mean you are the only leader. There is plenty of leadership needed from everyone else on the team. But management is not mindless paperwork. You might want to read these other myths:

Those myths discuss what the manager does and how the team members lead from within the team.

And regarding your military analogy? The military now has small agile teams, where they have situational leadership. Yes, the manager is on the field. The senior manager is not on the field. There, you are certainly correct. The middle managers are in the field more often than not.

Great management is much harder than it looks. Lousy management is easy. Lousy management is a disaster for everyone. It sounds like you have seen more than your share of lousy management.

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