The Lessons of Stephen Covey #2:
Leadership versus Management

If you’ve been reading this site regularly, you have probably gleaned my belief that only you can choose the direction and progression of your own life. The things people have told you, the past embarrassments you’ve felt, and the current work you are doing do not have to get in the way of what you truly want in this world. The only thing that can block you is your choice to block yourself. Once you have taken control of this decision you can go toward your goals. But, how do you get there? How do you ensure that you are in fact making the proper choices to move forward in your creative life?

Dr. Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the difference between choosing a goal and working toward a goal. This is a very important distinction to make. The second habit in his book, called “Begin with the End in Mind” centers on choosing these goals. His third habit titled “Put First Things First” discusses the achievement of these goals.

If you look to the end of your life, what do you expect to have accomplished? What kind of life do you wish to have led? Stephen Covey asks his readers to picture their own funerals. At this memorial service, your friends, family, and co-workers are all represented by different eulogies throughout the day. If you had your choice of what you wanted them to say, what would it be?

Many of us would want to be remembered as a loving, generous, and successful person who was much loved by the people around him. We would want to be seen as rich of spirit and bank account while also being full of warmth. Not everybody would want to be seen that way, but few would want to be viewed as lying jerks, so I figured I would approximate :).

Now look at your current life. Are your present goals and desires aligned with how you want to be viewed at the end of it all? If so, then you are on a great path for yourself. If not, you might consider changing the things you’re working towards.

By beginning with the end in mind, you can determine if your current direction is right for you. A person who excels in this habit can be a great leader for himself and others. You can choose the right goals for your team at work, your family, and your community if you can see clearly to the potential end result. Leadership is about your vision for the future.

Stephen Covey Habit #3 is to “Put First Things First.” I discussed a major component of this in my article on the Quadrant II concept. Quadrant II is about picking the tasks on a day to day basis that will help your future. Putting the most important things first every day is the purpose of time management. If you are unable to manage your time well, you will either accomplish the wrong things or nothing at all.

Quadrant II tasks are the cornerstone to Stephen Covey's time management strategy. These responsibilities are those that are important but not urgent. Some that would qualify are improving the efficiency of your filing system, brainstorming new ways to increase sales, or spending twenty minutes a day to refine your writing skills. These activities would add to your abilities and give you a better opportunity for success in the future. These activities are also the ones that often get pushed to the back of the queue. They are the kind of things that you’ve been meaning to do that kind of fell off the wagon along the way.

Dr. Stephen Covey uses an extremely apt jungle metaphor to unite these concepts of leadership and management. Many people are fantastic managers. They are able to push forward on whatever projects are thrown their way. In a jungle, if given the task to slash through the brush and clear a path, these amazing managers would wield their machetes valiantly. They would cut through the flora no matter what problems came up to face them. These managers don’t care about the big picture; they just accomplish the task at hand.

Meanwhile, the leaders are doing something quite different. Leadership is all about making sure that the direction the solution is going in is the right one for the future. The leaders are up high in the sky surveying the jungle. They are the ones who are willing to say, “This is the wrong jungle! Let’s move on.”

A manager might respond to the leader by saying, “But we’re doing so well!”

The manager doesn’t care about the bigger picture. He’ll chop whatever jungle is put in front of him.

Are you the leader of your own life or just the manager? To be a leader for yourself you need to ensure that you’re going in the proper direction for you. Many creative people get locked into the trap of going for security. They find an undesired but high enough paying job. They tend to the management of their lives by making enough money and getting insurance with few plans of the far off future. Little do they realize that at the top of the company they work for is a group of leaders. They are visionaries who are thinking of the future and you are doing all their management for them.

Getting mired in a life of management is a dead end for a creative person. I suggest taking thirty to sixty minutes a day to brainstorm about your future. Understand where you are right now and come up with potential ideas of where to go from here. Sure, some if not most of the ideas will not work in the slightest. But if you don’t make the effort to come up with your own ideas, you are allowing someone or something else to be the leader of your life.

I realize that a certain degree of management is necessary to keep things steady in your life. Most of my day is still spent doing these management tasks. But I have looked at my jungle from the sky and I can see that the direction I’m headed in is a correct one. Also, one of my future goals is to outsource as many of my managing tasks as possible and to focus primarily on leadership. Once I reach that point, I will be able to try new and crazy challenges for myself while other people help my life chug along. This could take a long time to achieve, but I know that my daily actions are bringing me closer to that future, one step at a time.

Choose your desired end result. Adapt your daily management to direct your result toward it. Be the leader of your life. Become the kind of person that you want to be.

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