Knowing what is most important

Shirley’s leadership style keeps people motivated

by Martin Willoughby

Published: May 29,2011

Tags: GodwinGroup, Leadership in Mississippi, MBJ Columns, Philip Shirley

A Louisville Slugger display, put together by Godwin Group.

Great organizations have both effective leaders and managers. It is important then to understand the distinction between leading and managing. Leadership guru John P. Kotter stated, “Leadership and management are two distinctive and complementary systems of action. Both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and volatile business environment.” In a chaotic marketplace, it is crucial to have leaders who cast vision and direction for a company, and managers who can execute on the plan. Too often, we can confuse the difference between leading and managing which leads to disappointing results.

Philip Shirley, CEO of GodwinGroup, keenly understands the difference in leading and managing. We recently discussed the importance of leadership, and he pointed out, “Managers can get a lot of tasks done efficiently and it may seem that work is going well, while leaders will take the criticism that comes from focusing resources on vital functions no matter what individual department heads and executives say or do.” He noted that there are always tasks to be managed in an organization that seem equally important, and that the task of the leader is to strip away what is not important to move towards the primary goal. I believe this is a great insight into leadership. You can get a long way in life being an efficient task manager, but what seems to really create greatness is an ability to focus on what is truly important. Philip shared that in his first leadership job as executive director of a state based federal program, he learned that “running an organization is primarily about keeping the staff motivated to be productive, focused on making the most important thing the most important thing, and figuring out what that most important thing should be.”

Philip grew up in three small towns in South Alabama and later finished college at the University of Alabama with undergraduate and master’s degrees in American studies. During his career, he has managed a range of branding, long-term planning, marketing consultation, advertising and public relations projects for such national brands as BP, Waste Management, Hughes Aircraft, Russell Athletic, Georgia-Pacific, Louisville Slugger and Chevron. Philip has served as an adjunct professor in communications at two colleges, and he is a frequently published writer and blogger, with work ranging from business articles to feature articles in consumer magazines. In 2008, Jefferson Press published his collection of short fiction “Oh Don’t You Cry for Me,” and he also co-authored “Sweet Spot: 125 Years of Baseball and the Louisville Slugger” on the history and business practices of the Louisville Slugger brand.

For future leaders, he emphasized that, “Management is not leadership, and that is the hardest lesson to learn.” Too often, leaders fall into the trap of micro-managing their people, but “if you want spectacular success beyond the norm, lead more than you manage.” Philip believes that you have to let people build their own skills, try new things and learn to stretch their capabilities. One of Philip’s mentors taught him that leaders set the destination, but don’t detail every step in how to get there. Leaders set goals for organizations and create clarity on the focus. Philip frequently shares the vision of GodwinGroup with the entire company to make sure everyone is aligned. Casting and repeating vision is an often overlooked point in organizations. However, it’s critical to leading a focused and successful company.

Under the leadership of Philip and former CEO Danny Mitchell, GodwinGroup has grown to be a leading agency that works with many national as well as local brands. We have many outstanding service provider companies in this state, and GodwinGroup is a great example of how companies with a big vision can grow and make a national impact. Hopefully, we will continue to cultivate organizations that not only have great management, but also have visionary leadership to impact our state.

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