The art of leading

Leadership is the art of leading. However, not every manager is a leader, as the terms “leadership” and “management” are often confused.

To me, management is the ability to manage, control, and make optimal use of the people, processes, and resources within a group based on the established values, beliefs, and rules.

 It means working in an organizational system and involves the concrete organization of tasks and processes. 
The existing systems are to be used as efficiently and effectively as possible in order to fulfill the important task of keeping the company successful.

Many (management) functions in the company serve exactly this purpose and are undoubtedly essential and important. The manager must therefore possess the ability to successfully exercise management functions such as planning, organization, management, and control (in accordance with the company’s targets). The objectives of MBOs often reflect this task.
 Thus, leadership skills are a subdomain of management skills.

The question arises: How are the goals of a company established?
 Here we do not mean operational objectives – which are undoubtedly important – but are more concerned with the question of how to create meaning and keep the company viable over the long term.

Suddenly, we are not only discussing EBIT, ROCE, and EVA, but also the question of:

  • Which markets can we tap into?
  • Which products can we offer in the competitive environment?
  • How much resource consumption do we incur thereby?
  • How can we be attractive to employees?
  • What meaning do we give to the company?
  • What reputation does the company have in society?

Professional qualifications and management skills are a good starting point for ensuring lasting corporate success – especially in expert organizations (everyone speaks the same language). But success hinges to a much greater degree on the leadership qualities of the top team and the behavior of the leader.

From this point on, what is needed is not management, but leadership!

In my opinion, being a leader means stringently pursuing a vision and agenda, possessing an unswerving belief in a certain objective/direction. The leader gives the company meaning and orientation.
 Thus, it means working in the organizational system.

Leadership to me is the ability to give a group of people a (new) vision and direction, so that they can actively identify with the goal and philosophy. A good leader is not only able to formulate their vision in attractive language, but also to bolster it with values and convictions, and – most importantly – to exemplify it through their own actions.

Leadership is the aggregate behavior of a manager or management crew that leads to

  • bringing a large organization (a complex system) to its peak performance via a purposeful and holistic process of continuous development,
  • making daring fundamental changes to empower employees and overcome resistance for the sake of the future viability of the organization,
  • initiating and promoting the required redesign and transformation of the organization while taking into account all elements thereof (strategy, culture, processes, structure, leadership, information and communication, performance and results),
  • mentally and emotionally nurture a vision of the future and foster a connectedness throughout all hierarchy levels among the people in the organization.

Drawing on Jim Collins (1), I am convinced that a leader should possess certain personal qualities.

These leaders set their personal egos aside and focus on the greater goal: building a top company. Of course, Level 5 leaders also have an ego and act in their own self-interest. They are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is primarily directed toward the success of the company rather than personal gains. Leaders want to see the company even more successful in the next generation. The fact that hardly anyone will associate them with this achievement does not bother them in the least. 
The qualities of a Level 5 manager are: humility, decisiveness, restraint, hardness, no airs and graces, and the pursuit of long-term top results.
 A Level 5 manager epitomizes the highest of the five levels used for classifying management qualities.

These descriptions reflect my personal values as a leader who seeks to give meaning to the company and understands that a company does not consist of organigrams, but human beings. The manager brings a vision and rough blueprint and ensures through clear communication and meaningful orientation that the people in the company – like building blocks – combine into a successful whole.


(1) Jim Collins: Good To Great, 2011

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