Are You a Manager or a Leader?

Over the holiday break, I had the chance to read a great book by Horst Schulze: Excellence Wins: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise. Schulze is the co-founder and former president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, known for its luxury brand and amazingly responsive service to customers and employees.  It was a simple but powerful book of lessons and I took many ideas from reading it.

In one chapter, Schulze talks about how leadership is an acquired skill that anyone can learn. He mentions that the best leaders have established a clear vision for their company, their entity, or their unit, and are 100% committed to leading their teams to that vision…no matter what obstacles or problems get in the way.  Here’s an excerpt that grabbed me:

“Leadership implies that somebody has a destination in view and is actually taking people along to that destination. Managers don’t do that; they only manage processes and force things to happen. Leaders, on the other hand, seek to create an environment where people want to do the things needed to reach the destination.”

At one point in his career, he had responsibility for 65 hotels. After scrutinizing all the local General Managers, he found that he had many more managers than leaders. He said:

“How did I determine this? Well, I had asked each of the individuals, ‘So, what will this hotel be next year?’  In too many cases, I heard a lot of … ‘if I had this or if I had that…, my operation could be doing better.’ Lots of excuses filled the managers’ responses. From the real leaders, however, I heard things such as, ‘In another year, everybody in this community is going to love this hotel!’ They were headed for a beautiful future, and if along the way they happened to fall down in some mud puddle, they were determined to pop right back up and focus on the horizon again. They would lead themselves and their people toward the goal.”

This story was an eye-opener for me. Too often, we all forget to keep our vision front and center, and we struggle to “take people along with us to that vision.” As any organization gets larger, it’s easier for leaders to revert to the “manager” mode Schulze talks about. This is especially true today as almost every organization has fallen into the COVID-19 “mud puddle” which has upended almost everything. I’m incredibly proud of my team and how they’ve positively responded to these unprecedented times, but we all have more to do to get to our vision. Your organization may be failing or thriving, but keeping your vision at the center of all you do is paramount to long-term success.

So, no matter our role, let’s all remember that true leaders get up out of the mud puddle, wipe themselves off, and take their respective teams to a powerful and inspiring vision that rallies their teams.  The people you lead are looking for you to lead them to the vision, not simply manage processes and actions.

If you’re stuck in what your personal vision is or how to set it, my book Limitless: Nine Steps to Launch Your One Extraordinary Life has resources to help you do just that. Click here to learn more and purchase the book on Amazon.

Leave a Comment