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When to be a manager vs when to be a leader: the manager’s guide to avoiding Armageddon

Written by Jo Owen CMgr CCMI Wednesday 08 December 2021
What’s the difference between management and leadership? Is your job to set rhythms or drive change? I went on a trip on a nuclear submarine to find answers
The submarine HMS Vanguard surfacing

In my endless quest to find the essence of leadership, I found myself on board the nuclear deterrent at Faslane. That promised to be extreme leadership. The crew lives for months beneath the waves; only two officers even know where their boat is; there is no contact with friends, family or football. And the consequences of things going wrong can, literally, be apocalyptic.

My conclusion was that the last thing they need is extreme leadership. The nuclear deterrent needs extreme management. The difference lies between the need for change and the need for stable rhythms and routines.

They don’t need extreme leadership – they need extreme management

Leadership, in the words of Henry Kissinger, is about “taking people where they would not have got by themselves.” That means leadership is nothing to do with your title: it is all about what you do.

Kissinger’s definition implies that leaders are prepared to force through radical change, take risks and upset the status quo. Do you really want our nuclear deterrent to be led by someone who takes risks, upsets the status quo and changes or ignores the rules of the game?

I was reassured to discover that the commander of our nuclear deterrent is not like Kissinger’s radical style of leadership. He is the consummate manager. You may rest assured that, if Armageddon comes, it will be done by the book and everything will be documented down to the last detail. The outcome may be cataclysmic, but the process will be perfect. More importantly, he will not make a mistake. Armageddon will not happen by accident.

Want to know the difference between leaders and managers?
And why books with ‘leader’ in the title sell three times as much as those with ‘manager’

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