April 30, 2008

Better Is Easy

If you're running the show, and you want to be a good leader, my understanding of leadership implies a vision, a plan, and then goals that are milestones toward that end. This is my only understanding of actual leadership vs. simply "being in charge" or "administrating." That is to say, there is a difference between administration and leadership.

To make a somewhat geeky reference, when I think of administration, I think of the Steward of Gondor. And when I think of leadership, I think of Aragorn. Sorry, but it seemed like a nice example, even if it does come with a lot of baggage.

To let you know what started me thinking along these lines, I was reading the excellent local blog A View From Battleship Cove and the post "School Surplus." Lefty is talking about the possibility of improvements in the city of Fall River, and he makes the sensible observation that changes should fit into the fabric of the city. (Nice play on words for the Spindle City, by the way, Lefty.) This post is not really a response to Lefty, or an effort to address the subject of his post, but it did get me thinking.

It made me think of the difference between improvements and a vision. It made me think of a comment that my old boss JJK used to say about certain situations: "Better is easy; good is hard." It made me think of lessons my father, an expert in large project management, tried to teach me about how showing progress (real progress) often does not tell you anything about whether you're any closer to achieving your goals.

And I think this relates to administration vs. leadership because successful administration simply administers, keeping a system alive with little measurable improvement or deterioration. Progress can be reported here or there, but it is not progress toward anything specific. Like a healthy-looking raise that is outpaced by inflation, or a tax cut that is consumed by rising costs of living, it is something that looks good enough to distract you from a deeper understanding of your situation.

My point is not to defame administrators or administration. It can be hard work keeping a system going. And sometimes the status quo is good and nobody sees a need for much change. But I do think that "progress" is a concept misused by many administrators to put off criticism in times when people want a leader. In my opinion, it's better not to tout treading water as progress.

Leaders can be distinguished by their vision. Of course, any nut with an imagination can have a vision. And that's most nuts. But a leader should also have a plan to achieve that vision. And such a plan should have milestones which are true measures of progress.

I am not an expert on city planning, but when people complain about their municipality, I wonder if they ought not to ask their elected officials whether they are administrators or leaders. One is appropriate for a content population and the other is appropriate for times when real improvement is being called for. Are elected officials fulfilling the needs of the people by leading when leadership is needed? And if they say they are leading, are they exhibiting the attributes of leadership, not only in the charisma that we associate with some leaders, but in the presence of a vision and a plan and milestones that add up to the achievement of a goal?

Good is hard. You can get away with a lot if you can just avoid being tied to goals and milestones. You can spend a lot of time and money.

Posted by James at April 30, 2008 2:36 PM
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I can think of few more honest and accurate campaign slogans than "Another Term of Filling Holes By Digging Holes."
"Progress," indeed.

Posted by: PJ at April 30, 2008 6:20 PM

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