Jan 29, 2014

Snowstorms in Atlanta and Leadership (a quick take)

  I am sure that a great deal of ink will be spilled for months concerning the snow emergency affecting Atlanta (and, thus, the royal family) but we see this as an excellent opportunity to very briefly discuss the differences between management and leadership.
  Let us begin with a little history. While serious winter storms are rare in Atlanta they are far from unheard of. In 2011 a snowstorm paralyzed large section of the state of Georgia and Atlanta in particular. This event prompted the governor of the state and the mayor of Atlanta to work on improving their winter storm response plans.
  In December of 2013 a large conference of local and state authorities and meteorologists gathered in Georgia to review and confirm this new plan, which was heartily endorsed by the majority of the 200+ attendees. It was put into place for the now-current emergency.
  In press conferences and interview the mayor of Atlanta and the Governor of Georgia are repeatedly referring to two things - what other people are responsible for and that their response to this emergency is "much better" than their response in 2011.
  In the meantime the city is gridlocked with thousands of motorists stranded on the roads in their cars with no serious chance of outside help; thousands more abandoned their vehicles and walked to what private shelter they could find; many more thousands are stranded at their workplaces with no real hope of receiving outside aid - which included hundreds of children stranded at schools; a large number, perhaps a majority, of gas stations are out of fuel and many stores and restaurants are out of food. The direct impact on the people of the region is demonstrably higher and worse than in 2011 and the only real hope of relief is to wait for the weather to change.
  So how can people in positions of responsibility both dodge responsibility and claim that their response is better when the results are worse?
  Because of the way they think. These politicians and bureaucrats have been trained to manage not to lead.
  Managers focus on reducing costs, minimizing risks, controlling the use of time, communicating between groups, etc. All very useful tasks and skills but, in the end, the main focus is on minimizing the perceived risks to themselves and their organizations. This is not a negative, it is a positive as long as all you expect from a manager is management.
  Leaders focus on giving people a higher purpose and motivating them to excel and, ultimately, on achieving the best possible result.. In the end the main focus is on achieving the best possible result of their duties and responsibilities. This can be expensive and will involve risks and can directly clash with the core goals of management.
  I believe that both the mayor and the governor fully believe that they are, yes, providing a 'better response' to this snow storm than the last. Why? Because I am convinced that they are using project management tools and metrics. A disaster response plan was created by various committees over time; this plan was reviewed and accepted by various other committees and by the conference members in December; this plan is being followed and they are checking off little boxes on the project management applications at a steady pace; reports are being sent to those who are supposed to receive them; etc.
  Or, in other words; responsibility was spread as widely as possible; many other managers agreed that this management plan had steps that managers could understand and report on; the various people who farmed out their responsibility are receiving reports from their subordinates that allow them to tell others they are doing as the plan tells them to.
  Or - each team has minimized the perceived risks to themselves and their own organization and can point to how they are reducing costs, minimizing risks, controlling the use of time, communicating between groups, etc. To a manager those things are what is important.
  In the meantime the 9th largest city in the United States, a city larger than Singapore, is effectively shut down.
  The lesson is clear: do not ask for leadership from managers.
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