Seth Godin recently posted a podcast that caused me to mildly flip out in the first thirty seconds. Check it out here: “Of course they cheated”

“Management is done with power and authority – compelling others to do what we need them to do when we need them to do it. Leadership, on the other hand, always involves voluntary compliance. It always involves people eagerly following the leader.”

I’m a huge Seth fan, but this is the type of thing that I can see entrepreneurs mis-interpreting far and wide. A lot of people start their own business based upon their discomfort with the conventional structure of their industry, a frustration with how they see their bosses running their company, and a desire for autonomy and self-direction.

These types of people will often improperly map their own experiences with bad managers onto how they run their organizations. I should know since I did the same thing for the first several years of owning South Loop Strength & Conditioning.

They remember having their ideas squashed, they remember their leaders behaving badly and destroying the culture of their organization, and they remember having their projects micro-managed into oblivion by a short-sighted boss who is all trees – no forest.

So, Seth’s message railing against management as a coercive discipline based upon power, oppression and hierarchy tends to land with a market eager to hear it: entrepreneurs escaping the daily grind and striking out on their own.

These people love the idea of “leadership” rather than “management.” These people love the idea of “build it and they will come” rather than “sales funnels.” A lot of them are artisans, and they want to think about the big picture way in which their ideas are going to transform their industry, and they also love getting lost in the craft of doing their work.

But, what happens when they do actually have other people who they have to lead? What happens when they need to know their numbers in order to make strategic decisions?

Big picture inspirational blue sky ideation doesn’t help. Being really good at your specific craft (coaching, graphic design, copywriting) doesn’t help.

What does help? Knowing that management is a skill at which you can improve, and building a systematic way in which you run your organization and build relationships with your people – something like having regular one-on-ones with all employees, giving them consistent, non-emotional feedback on their performance (both positive and negative), and understanding how to organize the tasks of your business such that other people (besides yourself) can do them.

I think what Seth is really getting at here is the difference between “role power and relationship power.” Every hierarchical relationship has some sort of implicit threat associated with it. If you don’t do your job, you get fired. If you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail.

However, relying on this threat to get things done is often only successful in very short-term scenarios (like call centers where employee churn is extremely high). Instead, good managers work on building relationships and offering consistent, high-quality feedback to improve performance. Through these relationships, they can create a space for employees to excel, since most people really do want to do a good job.

While this may be what Seth means by “leadership,” I don’t think that’s what most of the people who are listening think he means. They think he means “starting with why” and mission, vision and values statements.

What they really need to do, though, is just have consistent one-on-ones with their employees.