Published in Rapport, the journal of the Association for NLP (UK), No 27, Spring
HOW YOU MANAGE TO LEAD
Penny Tompkins and James
The bad leader is s/he who the people despise.
The good leader s/he who the people praise.
The great leader is s/he who the people say "We did it
(paraphrased from the words of Lao-Tzu)
Leadership is oft talked about in the business world today. Is
this because it is one of the more difficult concepts to specify?
This articles combines NLP with other approaches to explore the
nominalisations we label leadership and management.
We have found that combining Stephen Covey's concept of Producer,
Manager and Leader with Robert Dilt's model of Neurological Levels to
be a useful way of pacing and leading the business community. It
allows us to introduce the ideas of 'functional roles' and 'levels of
process' in language that is readily assimilated in an organisational
setting. The relationship between the organisation, the functional
role and individuals can be expressed diagrammatically as:
On our trainings we introduce these ideas early as they provide an
excellent starting point to explore the question: "What is a
leader?". They also provide a framework with which other models can
be compared and contrasted. There are a variety of exercises (often
using spatial sorting) that can help people get a full representation
of each role. Then they can explore whether the roles are context
related, the time they allocate to each role and the effects on those
around them. Our outcome is for participants to understand they have
choice over their actions and to increase behavioural flexibility.
One of the most useful aspects of this model is identifying how
the higher levels impact on the lower levels and vice versa. We find
a consistent goal of individuals and organisations alike is to
operate with all the levels aligned.
The article below which introduces these ideas without using NLP
jargon. It was first published in a shortened form in the Excel
Communications (HRD) Ltd magazine The Know,
issue 2, 1993. (The magazine is no longer produced).
A common response to the question "What is the difference between
a Producer, a Manager and a Leader?" is "Producers produce, Managers
manage and Leaders... well, they tell people what to do."
This answer may have been true in the past. However, with the ever
increasing rate of technological change, the ever shortening time
companies remain as entities, and with environmental, political and
social factors transforming overnight, "it ain't necessarily so"
Old, rigid definitions and work practices are giving way to new
paradigms of organisation, workforce and most definitely leadership.
By thinking of people as producers, managers or leaders we miss
the point. These are roles which all of us need to fulfil at
different times and in different situations. When we habitually
occupy any one of these roles we limit ourselves... and others.
Adopting this new perspective leads one to ask: "Which role is
most appropriate for me to make the greatest contribution in a given
situation at a given time?"
The decisions you make and the actions you take based on the
answer to this question are likely to have profound consequences for
you and your organisation. So let us look at these roles in a little
THE PRODUCER ROLE
The Producer is primarily concerned with managing his/her own
behaviour to make changes to the external environment. In other
words, Producers focus on output and they may use tools to increase
productivity. While I am sitting here at my computer typing this
article I am in Producer mode. On the down side, producers rarely
delegate and therefore are restricted by how much they can do
themselves. They may become overburdened and end up resentful at
imagined lack of support. Producers are sometimes known to say "It
would be quicker to do it myself than explain to someone else how to
THE MANAGER ROLE
The Manager is focused on managing the capabilities of the people
and the systems s/he is involved with. As Stephen Covey says
"Managers understand the need for structure and systems -
particularly training, communication, information and compensation
systems - and the need for standard procedures and practices. Much of
the production can then be done on automatic pilot. Managers tend to
focus on efficiency rather than effectiveness - doing things right
instead of doing the right thing."
THE LEADER ROLE
The Leader is interested in aligning the beliefs and values of
people with the overall goals and vision of the organisation. In the
Leadership role you can bring about change by providing direction, by
setting an example, by motivating through inspiration, by building
teams based on respect and trust. A leader is focused on results
rather than methods, systems and procedures. Leaders ask themselves
"For what purpose?" and "What are the consequences for the system as
Many self-employed people are learning the importance of
allocating sufficient time to performing each role for themselves.
Without a Producer nothing gets done. Without a Manager, time and
precious resources get squandered. Without Leadership, the Producer
and Manager lurch from one short term goal to another, often
depleting the reservoir of motivation in the process.
So fulfilling these roles is not about the positions you hold,
it's about your ability to move between them. The higher in the
organisational structure the more potential influence you have, but
are you exerting that influence as a Producer, Manager or Leader? Let
me tell you about George...
George was a semi-skilled machine operator. He was the kind of guy
you looked past instead of at. It was only after a disaster on his
housing estate that his qualities were recognised, and later
There was a fire in which one couple's three children died, they
lost their possessions... everything. They were alone and in shock.
Quiet, unassuming George contacted the social services and organised
local support for them: a place to stay, neighbours to help and a
collection throughout the town to replace their burned possessions.
The children in the neighbourhood wanted to contribute in memory
of their friends who had died and came to George. He suggested they
form teams and mobilise themselves to tidy up the area and repair the
playground. This they did and the community spirit generated and
fostered as a result of George's actions made the housing estate a
happier and safer place for everyone.
Back at work, George received the admiration of his colleagues.
Soon he was booked on a course to train as a skilled operator. Last
we heard, he was Machine Shop Foreman. So George the Producer was
also George the Leader and is now George the Manager. George is still
George. All that changed to release his latent skills was the
context. This in turn influenced attitudes and a virtuous circle was
Leaking Values and Leading Values
Another example, from a Scottish manufacturing company will show
the subtle yet powerful influence the application of these roles can
have on an entire company.
A number of valves supplied to North Sea platforms were leaking
because of faulty o-rings. One platform had to shut down production
completely, and others appeared likely to follow suit. Replacement
valves were needed fast in order to preserve the reputation of the
company and maintain future orders.
The entire workforce were asked to change to a 24-hour shift
system to manufacture the replacement valves. This included the Board
of Directors who joined the production staff on the shop floor. At
times the shop floor workers could be seen showing the Directors what
to do and suggesting how best to get the job done. The valves were
produced in record time and the company went on to increase orders
and to become an international leader in the field.
You might notice that in this instance the Directors became
Producers and the machine operators became Managers. So who were the
Crisis Management or Principled
At one level, this example could be seen as "firefighting" or
"crisis management" unless you look at the deeper consequences.
- First, in this part of Scotland in the mid 1970's the
workforce was not used to seeing Directors at all, let alone
working beside them as a team.
- Secondly, the supplier responsible for the faulty o-rings was
not reprimanded. Instead they were supported to design better
procedures to ensure the product was manufactured to the required
standard and quality.
- Third, the attitude of the workforce to the "bosses" and to
the whole company noticeably changed after this episode. The
Director's beliefs and values, although never previously
documented or expressed, were demonstrably visible. This in turn
influenced the beliefs and values of the entire workforce. And
this was only the beginning of new ways the Directors of this
company manifested their role as Leaders.
The company never had this problem again, and over the next decade
they could boast the best labour relations record of any
manufacturing company in the region.
TQM or CQL?
Crisis management usually produces cynicism and criticism. So what
was the difference that made the difference in this case? For us, it
was the intention, the commitment and the congruence (alignment
behind values) of those displaying the leadership. In this example,
the whole workforce was influenced without a single Total Quality
Management seminar or glossy booklet.
Of course TQM programmes are valuable, and we have been involved
in a few ourselves. Yet it is our belief that these programmes will
end in empty slogans if Consistent Quality Leadership (CQL!) is not
Just by knowing the difference between a Producer, a Manger and a
Leader, you can begin to ask, "Which role is most appropriate NOW?".
We all have the potential to take on all three roles. However, do you
have the capabilities to recognise which role is required when and to
be able to switch at will?
Robert Dilts has been conducting some fascinating research on
Leadership in the Fiat Corporation in Italy. Using the principles of
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) he has been studying what is the
difference between someone who is an excellent leader and someone who
is merely competent.
It is our opinion that "natural" leaders have a number of things
in common. They formulate shared visions; define the values by which
they will operate; align themselves congruently with their vision and
values; and act with wisdom, ie appreciating the consequences for the
larger system. In other words, natural leaders aren't born, they're
built from the inside out. As Peter Senge says:
"Most of the outstanding leaders I have worked with are neither
tall nor especially handsome; they are often mediocre public
speakers; they do not stand out in a crowd; and they do not
mesmerise an attending audience with their brilliance or
eloquence. Rather, what distinguishes them is their clarity and
persuasiveness of their ideas, the depth of their commitment, and
their openness to continually learning more."
For 20 years NLP has provided techniques and methodologies for
transferring patterns of excellence from one individual to a
multitude of others. While most other approaches supply the "what to
do," NLP is uniquely placed to provide the "how to do it."
In our work with leaders and managers across a whole spectrum of
industries we have seen the benefits of applying the technology of
NLP. The resultant increases in productivity, efficiency and
effectiveness need to be experienced to be believed.
Stephen R. Covey, Principle Centered Leadership
Robert B. Dilts and Gino Bonissone, Skills for the Future
Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline