Geoid – Planet Earth and the difference between Management and Leadership

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Geoid – Planet Earth and the difference between Management and Leadership

By Jon Harris">Jon HarrisIn standard29th February, 2016


I was recently working with a group of managers at a large manufacturer when a great example of the difference between management and leadership came up.

We were working on an important conversation that needed to happen amongst team members.  The manager responsible for that area kept looking at the clock, acutely aware of the pressing operational need to come to a conclusion quickly.

I observed that “the clock is always ticking for managers; but time stands still for leaders”.  To achieve the higher level of leadership we need to understand that important things take as long as they take – which *saves* time in the long run.

This can be hard for new leaders to get their heads round, and fair enough.  After all, we’ve established ourselves as managers based partly on our ability to deliver on time!

Here’s a quick story illustrating, however, that the same words and concepts come to mean different things as you move up the ladder.

A friend of mine who’s retired recalls that before he went to elementary school, he thought the earth was flat.  You look down the street and it’s flat, right?  But at school they said the earth was round.  So he wrote “The earth is round” and got accepted into secondary school.  And at high school, they said that the earth was actually a sphere.  So he wrote “The earth is a sphere” and got accepted into university.  There, he studied geology and they said that the earth was actually geoid.  So he wrote “The earth is geoid” and got his degree.

The right answer isn’t always the same answer as you move through the levels, and grasping that is an early step that you need to make in your transition from manager to leader.

By the way, after his retirement, my friend took an evening class in Classical Civilisation, having always been interested in Ancient Greece – and he discovered that “geoid” means “earth-shaped”.

(I didn’t say that the answer we give always has to be meaningful.)




Jon Harris




2 thoughts on “Geoid – Planet Earth and the difference between Management and Leadership”

  1. Jon, I worked with a very successful CEO and he used to describe the differences as follows:
    Leadership = Winning for the team, having and communicating a vision, followship, “doing the right things”
    Management = Time/ resource allocation, getting stuff done, measure and improve, “doing things right”

    • Hi Arif, thanks yes that’s an excellent summary. A story that my colleague Derek Brown tells from his Newham LEA days, 25+ years ago, which illustrates your point about “doing things right” vs. “the right thing”: there happened to be one of the periodic upturns for the British National Party that came about in the East End from time to time. The BNP advertised a march down the Whitechapel Road one Saturday. The Newham secondary school Head Teachers were all sent a dry memo from the LEA saying that they could not under any circumstances tell white pupils not to go on the march, but they could make a mild announcement counselling them to stay out of trouble. Most Heads took the “manager” route and repeated the mild announcement. Except for one true Leader, our favourite: he stood up at assembly and said “I’ll be looking carefully at TV footage of that march, and if I see you on there you’ll be in my office and suspended faster than you can say ‘BNP’ “. Love it!

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