Archive for the ‘Office Politics’ Category

By John Kotter

A few weeks ago, the BBC asked me to come in for a radio interview. They told me they wanted to talk about effective leadership — China had just elevated Xi Jinping to the role of Communist Party leader; General David Petraeus had stepped down from his post at the CIA a few days earlier; the BBC itself was wading through a leadership scandal of its own — but the conversation quickly veered, as these things often do, into a discussion about how individuals can keep large, complex, unwieldy organizations operating reliably and efficiently.

That’s not leadership, I explained. That’s management — and the two are radically different.

In more than four decades of studying businesses and consulting to organizations on how to implement new strategies, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people use the words “leadership” and “management” synonymously, and it drives me crazy every time.

The interview reminded me once again that the confusion around these two terms is massive, and that misunderstanding gets in the way of any reasonable discussion about how to build a company, position it for success and win in the twenty-first century. The mistakes people make on the issue are threefold:

Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.

Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.

Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.

In fact, management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well. Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week. In organizations of any size and complexity, this is an enormously difficult task. We constantly underestimate how complex this task really is, especially if we are not in senior management jobs. So, management is crucial — but it’s not leadership.

Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy. The notion that a few extraordinary people at the top can provide all the leadership needed today is ridiculous, and it’s a recipe for failure.

Some people still argue that we must replace management with leadership. This is obviously not so: they serve different, yet essential, functions. We need superb management. And we need more superb leadership. We need to be able to make our complex organizations reliable and efficient. We need them to jump into the future — the right future — at an accelerated pace, no matter the size of the changes required to make that happen.

There are very, very few organizations today that have sufficient leadership. Until we face this issue, understanding exactly what the problem is, we’re never going to solve it. Unless we recognize that we’re not talking about management when we speak of leadership, all we will try to do when we do need more leadership is work harder to manage. At a certain point, we end up with over-managed and under-led organizations, which are increasingly vulnerable in a fast-moving world.

by Michael Schrage

Successful leaders and managers alike constantly stress the importance of developing their employees. But do they appropriately recognize the importance of how their employees might develop them? One of the world’s top coaches thinks not.

While chatting about “coachability” with Sir Clive Woodward — who had coached England’s world champion rugby team and served as Director of Elite Performance for the wildly overachieving British Olympic team — he casually observed that, in reality, the best athletes he had invariably improved his abilities as a coach.

“My top performers ended up pushing me harder than I pushed them,” Woodward said, adding that you can’t help but learn from watching top athletes perfecting their craft.

This mutuality of professional development was a theme of his. Back in the late-nineties, Woodward was arguably the first coach of a national squad to give a laptop to every single player, insisting they be as world-class as IT users as they were as athletes. “Simply using it as a tool wasn’t good enough,” he insisted. “We wanted to be the best using IT.” That squad won a world championship.

Needless to say, Woodward learned a great deal observing how his players used their laptops to learn and make themselves more competitive. Those lessons, of course, made him an even better coach.

That truly great players make everyone around them play better is one of sports’ better championship clichés. But arguments that great players actually educate their coaches are considerably rarer. They’re just as rare in the managerial literature. Woodward and I were on a panel for Tech Mahindra’s European customer event in the U.K. In the panel’s aftermath, I messaged a few friends and colleagues. I asked them to name employees — not colleagues or bosses! — who had dramatically improved them as leaders and/or managers. The most common response was that they’d never been asked before. (One colleague who’d helped grow a start-up to a nine-figure sale responded with the name of a particularly gifted software development project leader who blew him away with his standards of excellence and expectations management.)

Clearly, there’s a “turning bugs into features” quality to this question. Often, coaches and managers learn the most from their most difficult, recalcitrant, or challenging charges. Not to diminish the importance of managing “talented temperamentals,” but that explicitly wasn’t Woodward’s focus. He thought it critical for his own professional development to learn from his players. Do most managers and executives similarly believe it critical to learn from their direct reports? The data suggest not.

Not a single member of my network — nor the organizations I’ve worked with — have a performance review question assessing whether — and how well — bosses improve their own performances by learning from their employees. That seems odd. Reverse mentoring by millennials (and talented college students) to help their 40+ elders acquire better Internet and social media expertise has become more common. Certainly, project managers and new product leaders observe best practices worth sharing.

But how well — and how often — do they monitor how their own management style and insight have been improved by their best people and performers? Our human capital and professional development conversations and evaluations should be more symmetrical. Yes, everybody can recall that boss that made a huge difference. But who celebrates the one or two employees that dramatically improved managerial verve and effectiveness?

Which employee had the biggest positive impact on who you are today?

More blog posts by Michael Schrage
Michael Schrage


Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the new HBR Single Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?


Post image for Coping With Being Fired

As anyone who’s been fired knows, being fired is difficult to deal with. It’s not at all like quitting. Well, maybe they’re just a bit alike in that both involve you no longer having your job. But, that’s where the similarity ends. Quitting is proactive. It’s freeing. It’s liberating. It’s you telling your boss to “take this job and shove it.”

Being fired is not like that at all.  It’s not proactive. It’s not freeing. It’s not liberating. It’s your boss telling you to “shove it.” Being fired is being victimized. Someone with power over you is controlling you and telling you what to do. And, what they’re telling you to do is “get the hell out.” It doesn’t matter how nice they say it. It doesn’t matter if they tell you that you’re an awesome person and that you’re not really being fired, you’re just being laid off for financial reasons that have nothing to do with you.

That’s nonsense. The reasons have everything to do with you. Somebody somewhere in the hierarchy (not necessarily the Angel of Doom who has given you the pink slip) decided that you are expendable for whatever reason or reasons. So, you’re out. You don’t get a say. It’s not open to debate. You’re just fired. So get your box of stuff, get to stepping and don’t let the door hit you in the behind on the way out.




It’s time for you to make a change, be it a new career path or simply a new challenge. The procedure for resigning is simple enough: give notice, preferably in advance. But if you don’t want to burn any bridges, thereby creating obstacles to future opportunities, you must be especially careful and considerate. Resigning is easy, but resigning gracefully is not. This article specifically covers several ways a person can make their resignation as smooth and as grudge-free as possible


  1. Keep it to yourself. Once you’ve made the decision, don’t go blabbing it all over the company until you have notified your immediate supervisor. Give her or him time to absorb and process the information. If the company makes an attractive counter-offer, it will be awkward if you have already announced your plans to coworkers.
  2. Plan to give notice. If you want to leave under the best possible terms, don’t leave your employer high and dry, scrambling to cover your position. Give at least two weeks notice (or the minimum notice specified in your employment contract if applicable) so that your boss can prepare to have others cover for you, or have time to groom a replacement.
  3. Ask your boss for an appointment to discuss an important matter. Poking your head in and asking for a moment of his or her time will do – just be respectful of the fact that your supervisor has a job to do, and may not be able to drop everything at the precise moment you are prepared to spring this news on him or her. If there is too much going on, you will only add to your his or her hassles, so if it’s at all possible, wait for a time when your boss will have a few moments to focus on your news.

    A moment of your time?

    A moment of your time?

  4. Be prepared, direct, and polite. Rehearsing privately will help you be ready when your supervisor has you in to talk. Most managers are extremely busy and they will appreciate your direct approach, forgoing the temptation to “cushion the blow,” “find the right way to say this,” or otherwise beat around the bush. You might say something like:
    • “I’ve been considering my options here for some time, and I’ve decided it’s time for me to move on. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve found here, but I must give my two weeks’ notice.”
    • OR… “I need to let you know that I have been offered a new position at another company. I have really enjoyed working here, but I need to give you my two weeks’ notice as of today. Does it work for you if my last day is [whatever two weeks from then is]?”
  5. Be prepared to discuss. Chances are you’ve been working with this boss for some time, and whatever your reasons are for leaving, she or he may have some questions. Or your boss may value you much more than you realized, and make a counteroffer. Being polite and dignified about your resignation could make this possible. You will need to consider in advance whether you would stay for a pay raise, increased benefits, a promotion, or other incentives. This would be a prime negotiating opportunity, so be prepared for it, and know your own bottom line. If staying is an option, what would make you open to it? Check the warnings below, though, because counter-offers can have some serious downsides.
  6. Emphasize the positive. Be honest, but polite. If the boss asks you if he or she had anything to do with your decision, and was a factor, it’s best to rely on tact and diplomacy to make an honest answer palatable. In other words, you won’t help yourself by saying, “Yes, you’re a lousy supervisor and I (or anyone) would have been way better,” (even if it’s true). You can be truthful without being cruel: “It was a factor, but not the entire reason. I felt our working styles and approaches just weren’t a great fit, and that we never meshed as well as I wished we had. Still, the overall experience here has been positive; and with this opportunity, I feel excited to have new challenges.”
  7. Have a copy of your letter of resignation in hand. Make your letter brief, non-confrontational and professional. An example: “Dear Mr. Spacely: It has been my honor to work for Spacely Sprockets, Inc. This letter is to notify you that I will be leaving to accept a new position with another company as of [a date which is AT LEAST two weeks from the date of your conversation and letter]. Please accept my thanks for our association, and best regards to you and the entire company for the future. Sincerely, George Jetson.”
  8. Shake hands, smile, and thank your boss. Whether your departure is to relocate, to take a better job, or just to get away from this guy, show some class when you’re walking out the door. Shake hands, thank your soon-to-be-former supervisor (yay!) for “everything,” and leave. Go to your work station and stay there for at least 10 minutes. Now you can go blab it to everybody, but don’t rub it in your boss’s nose – be classy and simply confirm that you will be leaving.


An interview with Joseph L. Bower, Professor, Harvard Business School. To become an effective CEO, work for companies committed to leadership development, and take responsibility for your own development on the job.