Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Are you too busy doing to bother with where you are going?

by Steven M. Worth

Some of us are more guilty of this than others.  It is not that those who concentrate on the day-to-day are shallow or shortsighted necessarily--the case can certainly be made that if you “stick to your knitting” doing what you do well, that things tend to work out in the end.  But it is also true that those who know where they are going tend to get there more often than not; and in the course of getting there, they tend to have a shaping influence on the world around them.

In the extreme, this natural dichotomy is also true of association managers who tend to fall into one of two camps.  One is made up of those who focus solely on operational perfection; while the other consists of those who focus solely on a strategic vision.  Both extremes can be frustrating to deal with—with the “doers” rarely questioning the relevance or effectiveness of what they are doing; while the “visionaries” more often than not are surrounded by a great deal of waste and drama.  Ugh…what a choice!

Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs is a study of a manager who exemplified the second management style.  Politically, Jobs was very much attuned to President Obama; but how did Jobs evaluate the President as a manager?  “Here’s the problem with Obama’s leadership:  He doesn’t like to really piss people off,” Jobs said. “I guess that wasn’t a problem I ever had.”

One cannot read Isaacson’s biography of Jobs without feeling a certain ambivalence about the man.  It is hard to come away from it feeling like Jobs would be a friend or good person to work for.  But it is also hard to deny his shaping influence on how we have incorporated technology into our daily lives.

As in most extremes, the best place for most managers to be is somewhere in the middle.  We need to be constantly questioning the relevance of what we are doing, and to do that we do need to know what it is we are trying to achieve long term.  Member/customer satisfaction is not enough, because members/customers can and do change their minds in a flash if they see something more relevant to their needs somewhere else.  But for the “visionaries” among us, we need also to recognize that efficiencies do matter—no one wants to be part of an organization that does not value its stakeholders’ time, talent or financial resources. 

Efficiency and effectiveness are what senior management is all about, and periodically it is useful to look at the two extremes to make sure we are where we should be.

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