The distinction between leaders and managers has never been more apparent than in this vaccine launch debacle. For me, the distinction can be summed up like this: a good manager goes out of his way to make tea from the chocolate teapots acquired by his leader.
Good managers implement the strategies designed by their leaders. Managers try to do the things that the leaders have thought. Managers generally make immediate or short-term decisions, while leaders set direction for the long term.
One school of thought developed by thinkers dating back to ancient Greece, through people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century, is that leaders are bound by a social contract. We, the common people, renounce some of our freedoms to enjoy an organizational or political order.
We wait and put our trust (and sometimes votes) in leaders to make the right decisions. They are supposed to be good at the “vision question,” as President George HW Bush called it. We want them and their circle of advisers to be able to look over horizons and corners. We want them to be at least one or two moves ahead of the game. We hope they “played in war” the war before it started, not 18 months after the bombs started to fall.
Ultimately, we hope our leaders are lucky. Andrew Leigh, a Federal Labor member and former economics professor, in his funny book, The fate of politics, recounts the bad luck of José Sanjurjo, leader in waiting for Spain and in exile at the end of the Spanish Civil War.
This pompous man arranged a plane to return him triumphantly to his homeland. This was before the days when the carry-on Nazis put limits on carry-on baggage, so you decided to bring all your military insignia on board. The overloaded plane crashed, killing Sanjurjo and clearing the way for Francisco Franco to take over as leader for the next 36 years.
Despite the predominant role that luck plays in many races, we have a little truck for luck when it comes to deciding the fate of elected leaders. Interestingly, when things are going well for our leaders, they rarely, if ever, attribute success to luck. Luck in politics is cast only when the play looks like a tragedy.
Tragedy, classically in drama, involves the terrible outcome of a decision made from the beginning, which initially seems benign or beneficial. We hope that our leaders, aided and instigated by the best minds available, fully understand the implications of their decisions. We will rarely be tolerant of bad “luck.” We are much more likely to attribute poor results at home to poor decision making.