The COO Debating Society
Deutsche Bank New York
September 20th 2023
With the backdrop of Central Park, the COO Debating Society was delighted to be hosted by Deutsche Bank at their splendid new office.
This format was new to the New York business management community, with the room full of 150 in the audience the stage was set for a good evening. It is fair to say the debating team for the motion, leadership, had an advantage before walking onto stage. Many would have made their mind up before the debate in their favour, but that is not the essence of debate.You judge on the strength of the argument, the impact of the debate, not a preordained view.
At the half way stage the management debating team had closed the gap to be notionally behind, with succinct and deep dive perspectives on the principles of management finding favour in the audience.
The judge’s interrogation had the two teams at evens, although when the baton was passed to the audience, the leadership team came forth with gusto and added layers of enriched perspectives and responded with passion to challenging questions.
At close the vote went convincingly to the leadership team, 75% – 25%.
Leadership had been victorious, management had made their mark, the winner was the power of debate as all left all a little more educated on the benefit of each, as we all know leadership and management and not mutually exclusive and we need both to be successful.
Debate Speaker Opening Summaries
The terms leadership and management are often used interchangeably. They’re both vital to organisational success, but they’re radically different. Our contention is that leadership takes precedent in delivering innovation, productivity and profitability.
The crux of this debate centers on one key thing: leadership is a behavior, whereas management, as we have already heard, is more broadly a job. They are different. Management by definition has a short term perspective. The focus is on day to day processes, overseeing subordinates and typically on meeting the goals set for the organisation within a timeframe such as quarterly or year-end. Managers get the ball rolling to accomplish goals, budgets and plans, but they stay within the swim lane of their function and team.
It is leadership, with its wide sphere of influence and long term perspective, that sets the agenda for the entire organisation. Leadership has the ability to motivate, influence and empower employees and thus set the foundation for innovation, productivity and profitability. When this is undertaken successfully, employees contribute to the success of the organisation as the whole firm, all functions, work together towards a common goal.
If I can draw a rowing analogy here, and I know someone will correct me because they know more about rowing than I do, but on a boat, you have the best athletes. They all have their role. They’re all in their swim lane. They have a short-term view. You have the front, left, right, back left, back right. But the leader, you will notice, faces the team, they don’t face out to the water. There is no question that without the leader, that boat will move. It’ll move in circular motion. It’ll move sideways.
Maybe it’ll move forward. But with leadership driving these tremendous athletes who all have their position in the boat, that boat glides. That’s leadership – they empower, they motivate, and they inspire.
Leadership and management are equally important. Leadership does not supersede management. I want to remind people about the motion: ‘To deliver innovation, productivity, and profitability, leadership supersedes management.’ In my opinion, leadership does not supersede it.
To successfully deliver, you need people, processes, and systems. How many in the audience buy products from Amazon on a regular basis? Amazon isn’t just successful because of their leadership team led by Jeff Bezos. They thrive because they consistently deliver for their customers. Their supply chain is highly effective, especially for Prime members who receive products within 1-2 days. If something goes wrong, their customer service is spot-on. All of this revolves around management, strong people, robust systems, and efficient processes.
Now, let’s consider productivity. It’s wonderful to have a leader who encourages you to do more, do better, and promotes you. But it’s primarily about management: the systems, tools, and processes.
How do we set your annual objectives? How do we measure them? What are the KPIs and productivity targets? When we talk about productivity, it’s excellent for a leader to express a desire to improve productivity – but what and how are equally important, which management delivers for the organization.
Leadership is essential. While saying ‘inspire/motivate’ is important, we also need to deliver solid results for our stakeholders and provide evidence of sustainable changes through strong governance, management, and processes.
This motion indicates a trade-off. It implies that there are leadership roles and there are management roles and that people only fit into one bucket.
I would argue this is a gross misinterpretation. Leadership and Management are skill sets. Everybody in this room has spent a lot of time in their career developing great leadership and great management skills. Which is why you’re in the room today. That skill set is more than a strict delineation of roles. So hence, to say that leadership supersedes management would not reflect how you run a successful business today.
I don’t deny at all that leadership is important. Of course it is: having people who are visionaries, who think about how to handle change, who can understand and change the culture of a firm, is undeniably important. Leadership and Management are both needed. There’s a balance.
It’s not that one supersedes the other. When I think of leadership, I think of inspiring, I think of vision, I think of driving change, I think of new strategic direction. Those are all the things you see in a leader. When I think of management of course, I think about planning, organising, coordinating, executing, delivering on specific outcomes. But what happens in practice? When we run teams, our organisations tell us what the purpose is, what the vision is, and what the deliverables are.
Is leadership on its own going to deliver the results the revenue higher costs flat to down? I would argue no. The most important aspect that at the end of the day to achieve specific results, be that a cost reduction target, delivering an innovative product or a better client experience, is to develop plans, a project.
You have policies, you have procedures, you organise your team, you plan the deliverables, you give them feedback, you tell them that they haven’t hit their goals. These are all of the aspects of successful task completion. And what are we doing when we do that? We’re leveraging our management skills. It is my contention that to deliver innovation, productivity, profitability, you need both leadership and management. One does not supersede the other, and I respectfully disagree with the stated motion.