A Solar Metaphor for the Power of Leadership

By Thomas J. Lee

Have you noticed what I've noticed?

More and more so-called experts are stigmatizing the words managementmanaging, and manager, in favor of the words leadership, leading, and leader.

They look at people who run organizations and see two entirely different species, one of them ancient and the other modern, as if managing is a matter of bossing people around and leading is closer to gently nudging them. They declare or imply that managing is unfashionable—just so twentieth century, as the vernacular goes. “Don’t settle for being a manager,” they're essentially saying. “Be a leader instead!”

In reality, both managing and leading are essential to any enterprise that wants to succeed today and to grow tomorrow.

Indeed managing is at the very core of leading. The best leaders are excellent managers. They manage others to ensure results, and they manage themselves for the integrity they need to lead others.

Let's pause to clarify our definitions of both management and leadership.

As regular readers know, we define management is the work of ensuring compliance with the predetermined expectations of stakeholders. That is necessary for survival, for if you don't meet the expectations of stakeholders you won't be in business very long.

Some of these expectations are negotiated, as in a contract. Others are imposed externally. The stakeholders range from customers to investors to employees to vendors to agencies of government and even to the general public. They all have their own expectations.

Leadership is different but complementary. It is the work of envisioning, articulating, supporting, and inspiring change. It is necessary for growth, for if you cannot see tomorrow you won't be ready for it when it comes.

Now instead of complying with pre-determined expectations, leadership creates new expectations. The people who embrace these new expectations may be the same as the stakeholders we just listed, but they are acting differently, because they are thinking about tomorrow, and they are feeling hopeful and optimistic about it.

Solar Core.jpg

I like to use the sun as a metaphor. It illustrates the duality of managing and leading that any successful leader embodies.

You'll recall from fourth grade science class that the sun has a core much hotter than its corona, the visible cover. You can think of the internal core as the work of management and of the external corona as the work of leadership.

In the sun, the core is constantly generating energy through the fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In a leader, the core is constantly generating energy through the fusion, as it were, of one's purpose and values into a noble opportunity. If that's a stretch scientifically, it's also a real-world picture of managing at the center of leading.

A successful leader knows that he must make certain that he thinks, speaks, and behaves in a way that conveys his message with clarity, coherence, and credibility. Everything from his sense of self to his physical presence, from his analysis of challenges to his determination of policy, reflects that fusion in his core. It creates the energy that enables him to lead.

It is my hope that you are or will become a leader who is an excellent manager, too.

© Copyright 2019 Arceil Leadership And Thomas J. Lee All Rights Reserved.