Dear CMO:
I’ve had this conversation many times in the past few years and it’s worth repeating here to a wider audience because it holds a universal meaning for all of us in business.
You can be a leader without being a manager.
You can be a manager without leading.
You can also be neither of the above, relying on authority vested in you by whatever institution signs your paycheck. For lack of a better description, you can call this, “running.”

Leading means marshaling the collective efforts of a group towards a goal. One can do this in a position of authority, although doesn’t entitle one to lead. Teams can be led by peers, companies can be led by bomb-throwing renegades or fire-side chat paternal figures (the former seem to get more press because they’re just better stories), and in most cases it isn’t the electric personality that determines success as much as the clarity of a common vision that encompasses everyone’s desires and best interests. Leadership isn’t zero-sum.

One can also be a manager — the antithesis of the Celebrity CEO (or CMO, as the case may be) — as evidenced by the rise of the “professional manager.” This is management by management. The value-add by this class of worker is functional expertise: a roll-up function, a person who performs a functional check-off prior to pushing work-flow uphill for more approvals. There are a lot of these around.

Lastly, there are those in positions of authority who neither lead nor manage. They neither inspire nor effectively oversee. These are the ones who create fear-based environments and supervise in an atmosphere of entitlement. These ones love being called, “tough bosses,” because it strokes their ego. Enough said about them.

I bring this up not just because I’ve had two long conversations (with two very effective leaders) recently, but because it’s the end of the year and as good a time as any to reflect on the immediate future. I’ve spent over twenty-five years either leading or being led at some of the biggest brands in business, so I’ll humbly take credit for my own opinion in this matter.

Your job is to lead. Not manage. And certainly not “run.”What does this mean? It means your role is to teach — quickly and effectively. It means you must show a direction and seek buy-in from those who others might think should be controlled by less inclusive compliance techniques. And it means you must execute — through people, not in spite of them — so that each team member comes away with first-person experience and the learning that comes from being a good team player.

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Key Takeaways:

> Lead, don’t manage. And never “run.” If you have the reputation of being a “tough boss,” you’ve screwed up. Badly. If you have the reputation of being a “demanding boss who makes me do great work, who I hate to screw up in front of, and who has taught me a whole lot about business,” good for you. I’ve had one or two of them, so I’ll count myself lucky.

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John Keegan’s outstanding book, The Mask of Command, describes four leadership types in history and contrasts each within their respective times and places. Alexander led from the front, as personal heroism was paramount to the leadership role in such times. Ulysses Grant was a negotiator who led an army that often had every right to walk away, as he fell in history during America’s most painful test of its fledgling democracy. Wellington led from the rear and was said to be aloof from the daily lives of those he led; Seventeenth Century England’s class distinctions — particularly in contrast to the Bonapartist regime he opposed — framed him in this role. Hitler, lastly, animated the worst of leadership — the manipulation of the masses through pandering to their basest instincts via the emerging technology of mass media.

In each case, for better or worse, leadership required persuasion, motivation, and action.

I’d venture the guess that in this time and age, where staggering amounts of money are made in the blink of an eye like in no other time in history, the trend is toward the latter. We have more “runners” than “leaders.”

If you’re in a position to “lead,” “lead.”