There is an old adage about leadership that remains true today. While a manager is designated by position on a company’s organization chart, being a leader has nothing to do with the place on the chart. You can find a leader literally anywhere on the chart or even off of the chart altogether. Leaders are followed by people from whom they have earned respect, and people follow because they are inspired and don’t want to let the leader down.
I know an individual who ran one of the largest development programs in the Department of Defense. As a manager, he was not as effective as he could have been. As a leader he failed. His style of confrontation with his subordinates led them to avoid contact with him at all costs. They would even go the other way if they saw him in the hallway. His approach and their responses denied him a fundamental understanding of what was really going on in his organization. I have always found that I could garner more “true” information in the halls or in the parking lot than I could from “death by PowerPoint” presentations and company meetings. Why the difference? I was approachable. He was not. If I was asked a question, I would give a straight forward answer. If I did not know the answer, I would find out and provide an answer even if it was not what they wanted to hear. This approach stopped rumors and built trust among my employees and co-workers.
Leadership does not just happen at the top. It can be seen at any level of the organization. The “New Guy” who has no one to manage other than himself or herself can be a leader through example. What kind of image does he present at work? If it is enthusiastic and upbeat, the co-workers will see it and consciously or unconsciously mimic it. The same holds true if the attitude is hang dog and it’s clear he doesn’t really want to be there.
I contend that while there are natural leaders, leadership techniques can be learned and practiced. The learning cannot be by observation only. A leader/manager has to give subordinates the opportunity to learn through mentoring, counseling and/or formal training. It is the senior leaders’ responsibility to ensure that the opportunities are available. Nurturing and encouraging are required.
Leaders constantly need to look inward to see how they are doing. The electronic age can be a trap and degrade leadership effectiveness. If the first thing a leader/manager does at the start of the day is sit down at the desk and check emails, he misses out on a golden opportunity. Do a little walking around in the work area and engage with people to get a sense of how things are going. The team is your priority if you are to maximize results.
The basic difference between a leader and a manager is that the leader strives to “make a difference” and have fun while doing it. The manager performs the job he or she is given.
Frequently ask yourself if you are making a difference. If you are not, you need to retool and recalibrate lest you become merely a manager instead of a leader-manager.