by Laurie Drake
Two weeks ago, I attended a lecture given by Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire during which he discussed the importance of leading the future instead of managing it. As I was sitting in the auditorium, the difference between these two words, which I previously tended to conflate, became more clear. As Dallaire eloquently explained, management involves dealing with the problems in front of you, while leadership implies proactive thinking; choosing your future instead of coping with it. As these words and ideas festered in my brain I began to think about how easy it is to confuse these two ideas and how leadership, if mistakenly taken to mean management, establishes unnecessary boundaries around the possible.
The term ‘manager’ appears so often that I wonder sometimes if we even consider what it means and what it connotes. A quick look into the definition of the word reveals that it refers to a title or position within an organizational structure. Organizational structures, by and large, have limits. They are models intended to mitigate risk and improve efficiency, but all within clear delineated borders. Leadership, on the other hand, is limitless – there are no ceilings or parameters to leadership. Instead, the term suggests something bigger than a system. In essence, people manage problems, but individuals lead change.
Looking back, I wish I understood that difference a few months ago when I was interviewed for a social movements class. My interviewer was perplexed at Stand’s continued existence and asked me how we managed to survive in a world crowded with NGOs. He asked me how it was possible that our entire organization ran on such a small budget, with no paid employees, no head office, and hundreds of members working in different locations around the continent. In his opinion, our survival defied the organizational and structural norms of an NGO. I was completely stumped by this question. No clear answer came to mind, yet I definitely understood that despite all these constraints, we continued to move forward each year.
Now, the answer seems clear. Stand doesn’t only exist because it effectively manages its directors, chapters, and volunteers. It continues to exist because it is a leader. Instead of becoming bogged down by the limitations of our structure we saw something bigger so we continued to work towards our goals even when people told us that we wouldn’t be able to or that we didn’t have enough money. I’d like to think that the reason why we’re all still here, working towards putting an end to genocide, is not because we’re effective managers capable of coping with problems. Rather, I’d like to think that Stand exists because we are leaders seeking to define our future and in so doing work outside the limitations of our so-called “structure”.
Laurie Drake is University Chapter Director of Stand Canada.