5by5 | The Critical Path #45: Management vs. Leadership

We start with a discussion of RIM’s latest quarterly performance and follow with a description of the inherent tension between managing and leading. To further illustrate this divergence we discuss the conflicting messages from Microsoft about the Surface.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #45: Management vs. Leadership.

  • Great episode as usual Horace. I love the thoughts on Disruption vs. Sustaining and Management vs. Leadership.

    I wrote a piece this week for the TechBlock about my experiences as a product designer in a development group. My thoughts centered on using Innovation vs. Refinement. A lot of overlaps in our thinking.

  • Gary


    Great episode. I might suggest if you can fit it into your reading schedule the book ‘American Icon’ by Bryce Hoffman. This is the story of how Ford Motor Company turned their company around. A lot of the challenge was to change the culture of management at Ford.

    Leadership and decisions driven by data, and well reasoned planning seems to be rare these days.

    I remember that W. Edwards Demming saying to the effect that there are no bad employees, just bad management.

  • Walt French

    Just started listening. But consider Etymotic earbuds (I’ve owned the ER4-Ps for almost a decade) or similar(?) from others, for VERY portable, VERY high fidelity.

  • Don very interesting comment. I enjoy the podcasts. One area which I think is under-explored is the notion of corporate culture and innovation. Unlike Horace, I do think leadership is profoundly important, the leader and his team. Having worked on a number of multi-national/jurisdictional/cultural projects for large companies, I think one of the most important things that Jobs/Ive/Cook have said, is that one of the things that defines Apple is not what they do, but what they don’t do. In a management context, this means that you have sheep, albeit very intelligent sheep, but you also have the Wolfe that culls the sheep. The leader/leaders that say this is rubbish that cull/hone ideas and instil fear of failure. These are currently unfashionable idea’s, that you are ruthless and aggressive. We are taught in school/college that every view/opinion is worthwhile/valuable and this is often the culture of large organisations (focus groups/brainstorming etc). However, this is patently illogical rubbish. People’s views are determined by their intelligence/experience/culture/personality, which do not give equal outcomes. A typical flaw in large projects is that participants have a limited view of what technology can do in an holistic sense and what is “out there” i.e. best practice cutting edge. They are often therefore innately conservative and iterate on “known” technology, which can lead to a dead end.

    As a follow-on from the above point, one of the most useful articles that I have ever read on Apple, from an ex-employee, was on their project management structure/methodology. The most important thing at Apple is that their is no management by committee. Someone takes responsibility for execution of every aspect. This is the opposite of the Bureaucracy of large organisations such as HP/Microsoft.

  • Mike Wren

    The former co-CEOs at RIM were and Steve Ballmer is rambling and incoherent when describing how they would deal with disruption from Apple. So perhaps there is a pattern to find here. There is a tension in the CEO between performing management of the status quo versus leadership towards the new innovative state. Ballmer is even oscillating between these two states in his decisions. First he said the Surface would make Microsoft millions. Then soon later he said it’s “just a design point” for OEMs.

    This incoherence reminds me of the speaking style of someone with schizophrenia where there is a conflict between two states — reality and their own imagination. They switch rapidly between them in their speaking, often in the same sentence, leading to incoherance.

    I’m also reminded of something I learned doing chaos theory research in college by doing computer modeling of an oscillating chemical reaction. By increasing the proportion of one of the chemicals there would be transition from oscillation frequency A to frequency B. But before that there would be a period when there would be random switching between frequency A and B.

    So with Ballmer its two steps forward, one step back at best. At some point he will commit to one strategy or the other and reach a steady state. Until then, as observers, we just have to flip a coin.

    • Mike Wren

      Something else I thought of. Steve Jobs because of his stature and genius could take the 100% leadership route. But Ballmer is a political animal and he has to balance both the status quo with OEM side and the innovation with integrated approach side. So he is trying to be 50% manager and 50% leader. However Ballmer would do better not to gyrate between the two sides in public. He seems to think out loud in public and doesn’t rehearse the way Steve Jobs did. That is who Ballmer is — off the cuff remarks and gestures. But that lets us examine how he is dealing with disruption whereas Steve Jobs unrehearsed inner thoughts remained hidden.

      It remains to be seen if Tim Cook can be the 100% leader type.

      Another thing I want to point out is that The Critical Path posts by Horace seem to generate realitively few comments for some reason. I think that is a real shame because I think Horace’s Management versus Leadership idea as applied to disruptive innovation is profound and it has caused me to brainstorm. I wonder if many people will read this comment because this post is no longer the top link on (Horace, I assume you are still reading.)

      We should all endeavor to push disruption theory forward as other companies try to copy Apple in their own unique way. So congratulations Horace for your part in advancing disruption theory.

  • Karthik

    Hi Horace..Great discussion on the podcast…I was listening to Tim Cook discussion at the D conference this year. I don’t remember the exact time segment he talks about future (probably within the first 15 min) and he does mention that one of the most from SJ was to be future-focussed. If you have done something great or something bad, don’t dwell on it and just move on and look forward to create the next best thing and so on…so the seed have already been sown…
    One other question I had was whether Leadership and Management need to be mutually exclusive (as in totally independent)…Leaders at some times have to also keep the status quo going (or Manage in your terms) and sustain when they are in the process of creating disruption..Will appreciate your feedback on this…

    • They are not mutually exclusive. This is why I used the Yin/Yang metaphor. There is a bit of each in the other and they need to work together.

  • paulkchen

    Another great podcast. Regarding the best time to develop “the next big thing”, we know about Microsoft’s slow response to disruption. The Netflix/Qwikster debacle seems to be an illustration of pushing “disruption” a little too early as well as showing the effects of Leadership.

  • Horace, you said something towards the end of the podcast that triggered a question I’m not sure I’ve heard you discuss yet. Will Apple have the courage to orphan a billion iOS users?

    • Who says they’ll have to orphan so many users? The Mac continues to survive even while iOS gives the growth. The iMac is dramatically different than the Macintosh 128K, yet there has been an upgrade path of sorts all along the way. All you’ll need to do is upgrade your phone or tablet every 2-4 years and you’re good to go.

      Windows may be a tougher problem. I.e. it’s not obvious how they can introduce a new source of revenue (Surface) without pissing off their customers (partners).

    • That is the question of the next decade.

  • Joe

    Great episode! Just want to point out that Horace’s pronunciation of Huawei is slightly off. Horace pronounced the name kind of like “Huway”, in mandarin Chinese, it is more like “Hwaway”. According to wikipedia, ”
    Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (Mandarin pronunciation: [xwǎwěɪ]) ” So if you say it as “WaWay”, you are probably closer to the correct pronunciation than if you say it as “Huway”.

  • Alexander

    Here’s a recent article about ZTE missing profit by 80%:

  • Great job Horace my favorite podcast by far to date. I love how your thinking about management’s role in disruption is evolving. I never bought into “it just happens” or all managers couldn’t fail at the same time point of view. I think the management / leadership concept really gets to the heart of the matter.

    I believe that many tech managers start out as leaders, but transition to managers as the stakes rise. The former RIM co-CEOs are a good example. Obviously they are very bright people who didn’t simply become “un-bright” at the wrong time. The stakes had become so high that is was easier to suppress their leadership skills.

    I cant wait to read Clay’s new book. His management / leadership thoughts may break new grounds.

  • Great episode from my favorite podcast. And it’s on one of my favorite topics too — leadership.

    Leadership can be defined as the voluntary relationship between two people where one has accepted the non-coercive influence of the other. Leadership is simply put just influence.

    By influence I mean the specific action of making personal decisions based upon a leader’s actions, input or participation. Life, whether it’s business life or day to day personal life, is a series of important decisions and what we choose matters. Throughout life we have many leaders and at any given time we could be influenced by dozens, some that we are only subconsciously aware of.

    A manager can be a leader to his or her team or company but not necessarily. The manager’s relationship is a bit more complicated and less voluntary than a typical leader. The manager’s ability to fire an employee is the defining coercive element. Yet a good manager is typically also a good leader, that is, he or she possess the qualities of leadership.

    So what are some qualities and characteristics that inspire people to be lead by another? I’d say that first and foremost is credibility and honesty. No one likes a hypocrite or liar obviously. The next would be shared ideas and goals. The relationship between leader and follower is built around a common vision. Third, competence and judgment — the relationship is often educational with the leader acting as a mentor, teacher or guide.

    Leadership can be identified in workplaces (or other settings) by looking for indicative behaviors in groups such as; who is seeking and building consensus, who is making decisions, who is asking the right questions, who is sought out for consultation or solutions.

    A truly effective CEO is a leader who leads other effective leaders. Unfortunately, American corporate culture has an endemic problem with company politics which often occurs when there is a leadership void or deficit. Corporate political battles end with poor decisions like we see coming out of Microsoft these days.

    To understand this perspective better, I find it helpful to ask myself “Who influences me and why?” For instance, Horace Dediu influences me on business decisions because he makes astute observations about mobile technology. Steve Jobs influences me on design decisions because I see him as the arbiter of taste for our time and industry. Chris Horner influences me on cycling because his love of the sport is tremendous. Eric S. Raymond influences me on software development because code can be written to benefit humanity. Bill Gates influences me on software development because he showed that software can be a lucrative career. Howard Zinn influences me on history because he explained America through different perspectives than the standard text book and common myth.

    This is also a rebellious perspective. Many cultures and American subcultures teach blind obedience to authority figures, elected leaders, and other a priori hierarchies. By recognizing that it’s a voluntary relationship ineffective people in leadership positions will be diminished in power and eventually replaced with more effective leaders.

    Be a rebel and choose your leaders carefully.