I remember talking in 1995 with Bob Staton, CEO of Colonial Life
& Accident Insurance Company, a division of UNUM, about the
lack of leadership throughout the company. Colonial was one of
the few large, homegrown companies in Columbia, South Carolina,
when it was acquired by UNUM, the Maine-based disability insurance
company. At first, there was little evidence of the takeover, as
UNUM kept its distance from the folks at Colonial. But as
inevitably happens, eventually the parent company became more
and more engaged with the day-to-day activities of its acquisition
—particularly when the return on the investment began to erode.
Colonial had been a successful independent company throughout
the 1970s and 1980s, but its margins got tighter and top-line growth
became increasingly more difficult as the insurance world began to
change. The pressure was mounting for Colonial to produce better
financial results. As a result, Staton and the senior management
team were looking inward, as well as outward, for possible solutions.
One of the outcomes of their search was the idea to create a
new leadership development program for all the managers in the
company. I was interviewing Staton as part of the field research to
design the program. During the conversation, he was quite clear in
expressing his concern that Colonial had too many managers and
not enough leaders. It was too much for me to resist asking him
what the difference was—between a manager and a leader. Staton’s
response was similar to what I’ve heard many times from seniorlevel
executives both before and since this conversation.
“Managers,” he said, “wait to be told what to do,” while leaders
“take initiative, figure out what has to be done, and then do it.”
Whatever happened to the value of sound management? It
seems to have become a pariah in the business world. The cry for
getting rid of “managers” and replacing them with “leaders” is
loud and clear. Given the popularity of Drucker’s seminal work,
The Practice of Management, in the 1950s, how far have we fallen? Do
we really need to rid organizations of managers entirely?