The maligning of management

Raise your hand if you consider yourself an educational leader.

Now raise your hand if you consider yourself an educational manager.

If my instincts are right, many of us raised our hands for the first one. Far fewer likely for the second.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we strive to be leaders before managers. After all, leaders innovate. They serve others before themselves. They take risks and help people do things that couldn’t be done were they not there to facilitate.

And managers? They make sure that things happen, often relying on attainable benchmarks that have been set. They keep organizations moving in a straight line and deliver performance that meets expectations.

While leaders lead, managers manage. Clearly, there is a difference between the terms around aspirations. While managers shoot for the horizon, leaders aim for the stars.

Of course, what we have to remember is that no organization can be effective without the stars and without the horizon. We need to see what is in front of us if we are to climb ever higher. The best educational leaders, I would pose, are able to role shift between leading and managing. More “leadager” than anything else, these educators realize that both leadership and management skills are necessary; education, like most professions, suffers when we force an “either/or.”

So, how do we keep our sights on the aspirations of leadership while working within the realities of management? Here are three ways to manage up.

Manage for the people. An important part of managing up is remembering the Rule of the 3 P’s. Simply put, we have to put people before the process, and the process before any eventual products. This can be tough when we are in a managing frame as it can be very easy to get distracted by the process, and if we aren’t careful, the product as well. The key, of course, is to remember that despite all the processes that can sometimes form the focus of management, in the end, the people are the ones who benefit from the management we engage in. And, if we remember that it is all about the people, our decisions around process will be focused on the end results that truly matter.

Embrace macromanagement. Unlike its less-likable cousin, macromanagement encourages us to focus on the big work, and not get gummed-up in the small. Certainly, the details are important, but sometimes the deeper we go into the details, the harder it is to remember the leadership implications. Embracing the macro also makes it easier for us to manage with others. We’re less likely to hover, and more likely to welcome a variety of outcomes. In short, we manage with an eye towards the organization-at-large, and allow ourselves to think big, even as we work with the small.

Shift happens. Managing up means that we’re comfortable moving from management tasks to leadership ones, and, at times, living in the “leadager” duality. This also means that we welcome our lack of comfort with one role or the other. The best educators (and professionals, for that matter) don’t claim to be best at both roles, rather, they understand the necessity to lead and manage, and welcome those role shifts, even when placed in the one that is less desirable to them.

The malignment of management has a rationale. We need to be capable leaders if we are going to truly change education. But, in between those pushes for change, and that important risk-taking, is the equally important rest and calm that often accompanies management. So while the pushback against management has a rationale, it might be a rationale that does more harm than good. No one should strive to only be a leader or a manager. Instead, we must grow in two directions, and reach, and aspire, towards both.

Fred Ende (@fredende) is the assistant director of Curriculum and Instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred blogs at www.fredende.blogspot.com, Edutopia, ASCD EDge and SmartBrief Education. His book,Professional Development That Sticks is available from ASCD. Visit his website:www.fredende.com.

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