Friday, December 10, 2010

Management Secrets of Napoleon

The collective business wisdom over the past few decades attempts to distinguish between leadership and management.  We seem to be at a point where leadership is considered "good" and management is "bad."  Culturally, we are trying to inspire folks to be great leaders at the expense of classifying management as a discipline of bureaucratic administration.

I think leadership is important.  However, would you prefer great leadership as a substitute for strong managerial skills?  Think about Napoleon.  Historically he is viewed as a great leader.  But the most substantial element of his success was his logistics ability.  He focused on the details of supply and coordination to get his army to the right place on time and on budget.  Remember, he was the guy who said an army marches on its stomach.

For Napoleon, leadership on the battlefield was a key skill.  He did win almost every battle he fought for many years.  But he viewed leadership as a tactical skill to be deployed in specific circumstances such as battle.  His strategic skill needed to win wars was his administrative ability.

I worked at an insurance company several years ago that called everyone in management "leaders."  We believed that nomenclature change was a great innovation reflecting new age business thinking.  It acted as a cultural change to galvanize corporate thinking in a new direction.  The company went from the verge of bankruptcy to becoming the most profitable general insurance carrier in Canada in five years.

We could not have transformed the company without inspired leadership.  But beneath the layer of leadership was an extraordinary focus on rigorous process improvement, metrics, and organizational re-design.  These changes were all driven by fundamental administrative management disciplines.  Leadership was part of the solution, but comprehensive management skill was the complete solution.

For organizational managers, leadership is an absolutely key skill.  But it is not the only one.  Leadership is simply one of many tools used by the truly skilled manager.


No comments:

Post a Comment