I like to show the following video, The Crazy Ones, when discussing the distinction between leadership and management. It’s quite an inspiring video, even though I am no Apple fanboy…
The people depicted in the video were all ‘leaders’, pioneers in their chosen fields – but what makes them so? Why are they special? Why are they different?
Are ‘leaders’ the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble-makers, the round pegs in the square holes?
The video provides a good lead-in for a discussion about the traits of leaders, and how these traits differ from those of ‘managers’.
And ultimately this leads to a discussion around the contemporary understanding of ‘Adaptive Leadership’, proffered by two Harvard academics Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky.
In this theory, leadership is a practice, not a position. Leadership can be practiced by anybody, not just those in established authority or management roles.
At the heart of adaptive leadership is a distinction between ‘technical’ problems, which are a function of management, and ‘adaptive’ problems, which are a function of leadership.
Technical problems are the routine, everyday, business-as-usual tasks faced by an organisation, for which there is a known solution. These are the domain of the manager, who is responsible for planning, organising, controlling, supervising, coordinating and motivating.
Adaptive problems, on the other hand, are complex, strategic problems with no identified solution. Tackling these problems causes widespread change, discomfort and often significant loss for some of the stakeholders involved. These problems need to be tackled by a person who recognises that a degree of disequilibrium and conflict is required to make the change happen.
How does this thinking align with the ‘leaders’ identified in the video?
- Albert Einstein – developer of the theory of relativity
- Bob Dylan – musician and figurehead of cultural unrest in the 1960s
- Martin Luther King Jr – leader of the African American Civil Rights Movement
- Richard Branson – founder of Virgin
- Musician John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono
- Architects Buckminster Fuller and Frank Lloyd Wright
- Thomas Edison – the founder of the electric light bulb
- Boxer Muhammad Ali
- Ted Turner, founder of CNN
- Opera singer Maria Callas
- Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement
- Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
- Film director Alfred Hitchcock
- Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham
- Jim Henson, puppeteer and founder of the Muppets
- Pablo Picasso – painter and sculptor