What a mentor taught me about leadership.


Myth: Leadership and Management are the same disciplines.


When I looked up from a mass of accounting work-papers, I was surprised to see in my office the President and Chief Operating Officer of the healthcare company we were auditing (in preparation for offering its stock on the NASD exchange).  Moments later I was blown away when George Sloan asked me if I’d be interested in becoming his company’s Chief Financial Officer.

Initially I declined, thinking I wanted to invest my entire career in the public accounting sector.  But George persevered.  He was patiently determined.  Months after Touché Ross (now Deloitte Touché) had completed its work, he reached out to me again.  This time, he made an unbelievable offer to a 23-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears CPA.  Though I joked to myself, “What’s he smoking?” this time I accepted. 

And with ensuing years, I came to understand the potential George saw in me that I didn’t see in myself; yet with his great gifts of encouragement, as my mentor he enabled me to see my true identity and understand the big and important difference between leaders and managers. He felt both are very needful and immensely valuable, that sound organizations must have a good mix of both, and that being a leader and manager aren’t mutually exclusive possibilities…that some leaders can be good managers and some managers can be good leaders.  

So, What Are The Differences?

George said, “Leadership is about people and personal relationships, while management is primarily about administration of things…budgets, processes, systems, etc.” 

He described leadership behavior in phrases like “guiding others by being a vanguard who goes ahead, removing obstacles to the success of followers, opening doors for them, directing them along defined courses and serving as their channel for whatever they genuinely need.” 

George thought: “Managers are more focused on how to do things right, while leaders are all about doing the right things.”  He felt most managers tend to be left-brain, deductive reasoning types who prefer routines and sameness; while leaders tend to be inductive, deductive, whole-brain thinkers who constantly pursue good change.  He also believed managers “tend to lean toward the short-term and are reactive to circumstances; while leaders are more proactive, strategic, long-term thinkers.”

George said: “Leaders are visionaries and explorers who envision the future and don’t follow the crowd along the traditional path and waters, but instead are risk-takers who walk paths and streams less traveled, welcome and try new ideas and aren’t afraid of failure.” 

By way of contrast, George somewhat playfully referred to some managers as “cautionary undertakers…individuals who seem to always be trying to figure things out rather than trying new things, and too often they throw up yellow flags or seek to bury new ideas and endeavors.”

On The Job Learning

After I’d spent four years under his watchful and caring eye, George threw me at 27 in the operations waters...Read: Promoted me to Chief Operating Officer.   

As a great mentor and leader always does, during my growing process he gave me lots of room to swim, but made sure I had the emotional support, tools and resources I needed to succeed.  At the same time, he gave wise counsel, but didn’t “own” my problems or any consequences of my bad choices.  Rather than using the “seagull method”— to swoop in and dump on me—or the “Mr. Fix It” method of solving my problems for me, he let me own them, shared his thoughts, but then let me think and come up with appropriate solutions. From this trial-by-fire “lab” and George’s on-the-job training, I discovered that extraordinary leaders…

.Define and continually communicate vision, purpose, mission, values and priorities;

.Know community and relationships are superior to hierarchal approaches in organizations;

.Have entrepreneurial spirits, child-like curiosity and passion for what can be;

.Are human, not machines, persons who have deep sensitivity toward people, look less for flaws and more for people’s strengths and are complimentary of the latter and tactful in addressing the former;

.Don’t take themselves too seriously and laugh frequently…and most often at themselves;

.Delegate authority and fully empower those entrusted to their care;

.Teach followers how to fish rather than catch fish for them; i.e., teach followers to become problem-solvers who own their responsibilities, choices and consequences;

.Don’t cut corners, but do the little things and deliver more than expected – go the extra mile and beyond, not just for the reward personally, but because it’s the right thing to do; and…

.See adversity as opportunity and seek to convert liabilities to assets.

Closing Thoughts

George knew everyone has a deep desire to contribute, and as a great leader, he made sure they got opportunities to do so.  He gave everyone the space to be their best.  And he and we didn’t disappoint!  He led by influence and trust earned from serving and being loyal to me and all those entrusted to his care.

Though he was an exceedingly good manager, George was an even greater leader, who achieved superior results, not by simply managing things or applying abstract principles, but through leading people and building and maintaining healthy, covenantal relationships with them.  I was privileged and honored to work alongside this giant for a decade and have him as my friend for over a quarter century.  He has graduated to heaven, but I continue to experience his positive influence almost daily. 

About the Author

Cecil O. Kemp Jr. is the award-winning author of 27 books and a sought after leadership mentor, life coach and keynote inspirational speaker.  Click here to learn more about him and to inquire about booking his services.

This blog post is an excerpt from Cecil's new and critically acclaimed leadership book.  It is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other retail book stores and Cecil's online bookstore.  Click here to learn more and purchase your copy:  http://www.cecilkemp.com/store/