Leaders make things easier, managers create complexity

In large organizations, the fine line between entrepreneurship and bureaucracy is determined between by the attitude and actions of the front-line managers.

Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi made winners out of losing football teams. In Green Bay, Lombardi coached the losing Packers to consistent champions, and in Washington, Lombardi coached the Redskins from a consistent losing team into a winning team. Redskins’ quarterback Sonny Jurgensen said of Lombardi “out of the nine head coaches that I’ve had, Lombardi was the only coach to simplify the game, the rest made the game more complex.” 

The same sentiment can be applied to business. The people who meet the customers and carry out the duties are either lead or managed, with the difference being made by the actions and attitude of the front-line supervisors.

Front-line managers are often left with the dilemma of how to act and behave in the organization, and often choose to be bureaucratic. This is particularly true in larger organizations, with strong centrally controlled structures, with power vested in small senior staff who are isolated from the work staff both physically in a central office, and due to the characteristics of their positions in the central office. Senior staff typically has little interaction between themselves and the workers, and front-line supervisors with limited authority are left to manage the work team. Some large organizations have a decentralized structure that relies heavily on local teams to deliver results. In this type organization, the central staff delegates authority to local teams and sets up minimal structure. In either a heavily centralized or the decentralized organization, the front-line manager can choose to be a leader of the team, or can choose to be a manager.

The choice between becoming a leader and manager is a complex decision, but the basic element is quite simple. The front-line supervisor is left with one simple decision to make, with that decision setting the path for their style, personal performance and performance of the team. The front-line supervisor must decide if they care more about people or do they care more about the processes of the bureaucracy? The supervisor’s decision is influenced by several factors, including one’s own talents, job description, pay and performance. Most of the time, front-line supervisors the decision is to become the manager, carrying out the direction of senior staff, with the primary purpose of protecting the organization above all else. Concern for employees is a secondary concern, but mostly to insure adequate retention to provide a basic level of service or deliver the target amount of goods. The supervisor will manage toward sameness, treating each person equally regardless of the particular position, and the skills and talents of the worker. The manager will not likely share information with the work team beyond what is authorized, or give much sense of the direction of the organization. Over time, the work team will figure out how to get along and will simply follow the rules and processes. The result is that the work team will work to meet the minimum, but never achieve its full potential, unless some other motivation exists. 

Being a leader is much more difficult for the supervisor because it requires a deep understanding of each member of the work team, and to treat each work team member as an individual, and then to enhance the work team be betting the best effort and performance out of each team member. When Lombardi met with Juregensen, Lombardi said that they would win, and that he was going to be much harder on Juregensen because he needed a player who could be a leader, and that by coaching him, Lombardi said the rest of the team would follow. Lombardi simplified the game for the Redskins by reducing the number of complex plays to one simple play, the power sweep and then adding some variations to the basic play. Lombardi was demanding in the execution of simple these simple plays. Likewise, the leader will take the complex processes of the centralized organization and sort and make more simple processes that enhance the work team’s effort, and make their effort more efficient. Leaders simply get people to give their very best, and consequently performance and employee morale is elevated. Lombardi understood that the performance of an organization is the result of the combined effort of each individual. This understanding sets leaders apart from managers or just having a boss. With this understanding and perfect practice bay all of the management and the administration, heavily bureaucratic organizations can transform themselves into a more nimble and higher performing and more entrepreneurial organization. 

Educators at Michigan State University Extension and Innovation Counselors at the Michigan State University Product Center can assist food business operators in the establishment of food related businesses and optimizing results through developing leaders. MSU Extension can assist a community with facilitated conversations through our Extension Educator network. For further information and assistance with employee communications please contact your local Michigan State University Extension office. 

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