Overmanaged and Underled is Not Lean Leadership

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As I mature and become more aware of the subtleties of business, I am slowly learning the meaning of Leadership.  It’s clear to me that Overmanaged and Underled is Not Lean Leadership. For most of my career and, in part, my education, I have aimed to be become the best — technically — in the field of Operations, Logistics, Supply Chain, Lean Manufacturing, and Six Sigma.  I haven’t achieved my aim — and, indeed, view that pursuit as a lifetime goal — but I am now at a place where I feel some sense of achievement in those areas that I mentioned and have become painfully aware of those areas where I need to grow.

I do not intend any hubris in what I am saying, but this post is primarily a post of reflection – Hansei – and brutally facing the facts of where I have personally traveled and how I need to improve.

I have a clear need to grow in Leadership.   I have myopically focused on the technical side of things and also on managing, but really failed to nurture my ability to communicate a vision, align and inspire people, and get people moving in the same direction.

In my short career, I have been fortunate enough to have helped companies achieve bottom-line savings & target revenue growth through fundamental improvements in the business — not through financial engineering — but through real, improvements in the business.  I am thankful that I have been able to do that and am grateful to my previous team members and mentors who have helped me along the way.  What I am focused on now is on growing my ability to lead.  I have so much to learn but am so excited for the opportunity to stretch and grow.

A Defining Example

I was a kid who came from very humble circumstances.  I immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when I was 9.  My dad died when I was 6.  We were in America — poor, alone, but with big dreams.  My family and I lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment in Northern California; my mom worked hard as a secretary and my 3 older brothers also worked very hard — often times 2 or 3 jobs while attending school.  I was young, but helped where I could.

That example of hard work and struggle that I witnessed from my mom and brothers and that I also went through were defining moments for me.  I learned early on that a “Free Ride” doesn’t exist and that hard work was the right approach.  I’m thankful to my mom and brothers for setting an example for me at an early age.

Since I was young and, in large part, had very little supervision or guidance, I got into trouble and even found myself in juvenile hall once.  I’m not proud of that period of my youth, but that experience helped to shape me — it helped me to change.

I Needed a Mentor

We moved from one apartment complex to another during my Freshman year of High School.  In that new apartment complex, I was fortunate to have a neighbor that influenced me greatly.  At the time, I was 15 and this neighbor was a 50-year old Jew-turned-Hindu.  He had devoted himself to the Monastic life and devoted himself to serving others.

He Needed Help with His Groceries

He was older and had a bad back.  One day when his back was hurting unusually, he motioned to me for some help with his groceries because he couldn’t bring them up to his apartment.   I helped him and we became friends.

Through our friendship, he helped me to focus and to broaden my vision of what I could do with my life.  At that time, I honestly believed that I would be in Jail by my 25th birthday, or not be alive by that age.  He helped me to “see” a life different than what I had.  Then, he helped me to envision how I can get to a better place — this included doing better in school and getting my life in order.  Through his kind, gentle, and tough mentoring, he really motivated me to do better and to be better and to “see” a different life — a life I could personally create.

I set some goals and started to do better in school.  I obtained a job at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken, working 30 hours per week while attending High School.  I eventually became Assistant Manager and learned how to manage a small business, people, inventory, and the importance of customer service.  I also learned to juggle school and work and, it was then, that I also became addicted to Chicken Wings.

Since that time, I’ve been blessed to have accomplished some other things in business and life.

He showed me what Leadership is; through his mentoring, stretching, challenging, tough teaching, and loving guidance, I have become better.  I am so thankful for good people who help others grow.

Leadership and Management

John P. Kotter, in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article, claims that most organizations are Overmanaged and Underled.  He explains the differences between Leadership and Management, which I summarize below:

Leadership Management
Cope with Change Cope with Complexity
Set a Direction Planning and Budgeting
Aligning People Organizing and Staffing
Motivating and Inspiring Controlling and Problem Solving

Kotter shares an example from the Military, which is an organization that produces exceptional leaders.  He shares this quip, which explains well what he believes the differences are between Leadership and Management: “No one has yet figured out how to Manage people effectively into battle — they must be led.”

In the article, Kotter elaborates on the differences between the elements of Leadership versus Management.  I plan on summarizing his thoughts, with a few comments of my own, at some future time.

What about you?

I’m curious to know from you — who, in your personal history, was a good example of a Leader and how did that person shape you?


  1. says

    Great post and very honest. This kind of honesty and transparency is what I look for in a leader and are qualities that induces followership. Keep up the great articles — I’ve shared your blog with many supply chain and logistics team members where I work.

    I did really well in High School…until my senior year. One of my teachers really challenged me and gave me some of the worst grades I had ever earned. I deserved them. It turns out that my previous teachers were just too easy on me. Not this teacher. He sat me down and explained to me that his job is to help me grow and the only way people grow is if they are challenged, and challenge usually means some growing pains too. I didn’t get it then, but 20 years later I am now so thankful to that teacher. He showed me that breezing through life brings very little job, but growth means pain but also much joy.

  2. Justin says

    Nice post. Good point about leaders vs. managers.

    There are no hard and fast rules for leadership (otherwise, everyone could just pick up a book and we’d have a bunch of great leaders instead of a slew of merely competent managers). Leadership is an ongoing discovery process that is different for everyone. However, lessons can most definitely be learned from mentors and from past leaders.

    One of the best classes I took in business school was on leaders and leadership. We read the biography of a different leader each week and discussed them. The main takeaway is that different styles work for different people for different situations. Learning how these people managed their strengths and weaknesses in different situations is most valuable for discovering your own strengths and weaknesses when in comes to the challenges of leadership.

    I would highly recommend reading biographies, especially those outside your domain (so don’t just run out and only read Jeff Bezos biography, for example, though it’s probably a good one). In that class, we read: Giannini (Bank of America), Watson (IBM), Colin Powell, Robert Moses (NYC), Shackleton (South Pole explorer), Sony, Rockefeller and Graham (Washington Post), among others. I’ve since picked up more.

    Anyways, just my two cents. If you don’t necessarily have strong personal role models or mentors, you can always pick and choose the best that history has to offer!

  3. james says

    Great post Peter. I think that is one of those buzzword topics that gets coverage but very little actual action. Leadership is hard work. Period. It means being at the top of your game all the time and always assuming that someone is watching you and picking up on your actions.

    I was very lucky in my career to have had several great leaders. Some were while I was in the Army, some were while I was in the Marine Corps and I had some at Amazon.com. I am lucky to have one here at KP also. The qualities that all of these folks had were common among all of them. They cared about me and my development, they continually acted in a consistent manner, they did not put their careers before anyone else, and they made sure that folks below them knew who they were by making their presence known. They didn’t just walk around telling people what to do (although that is appropriate at times) but they also encouraged their people and showed a genuine interest in what they were doing.

    Leadership is also an attitude. You have to “own” your role as a leader. It is too easy to say that you are a leader but not do the actions that show it. True leaders are very rare in the world we live in.

    I wish you the best in your endeavor and your quest to become a leader. It is a very worthy goal and one that I have no doubt you will achieve.


  4. Jason says

    Your personal story is inspiring, as is your determination to ask more of yourself. I suspect both those things correlate well with great leadership.

    Like you, I was a bit directionless when I started high school. I felt like I had a lot of ability in some areas but no real goals or passions. There were challenges at home as well.

    My mentor was a high school math teacher who invested a lot of her time and energy into helping me do more with myself. There have been numerous times where things were still a struggle, but she gave me enough of a belief in myself to persevere.

  5. says

    Hi Pete,

    Great post and inspiring story. Some of the best advice anyone can take is “find a sensei” or mentor or coach or whatever helps you get out of your own way. Without one, it’s taken me a lot longer to keep out of my own way.

    You can manage processes, but not people: you can only lead them.

    Have a great year.

  6. says

    Reading this reminded me first of an IT project I worked on about 5 years ago. There was, for office political reasons, about 4 managers for and 4 workers. It was a nightmare. Everyone wanted to manage, nobody knew how to lead! Well, we have 1 manager that was the “project leader” but she did not understand the product, another was an overseeing manager who did not want the product (or the staff he sent to the project….), another who was managing the people (he did a good job) and another person who to this day I still think was a complete surplus to requirements. But this was very small scale. I dread to think the mess some huge companies must be in.

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