So very often, as managers and leaders, we fail to define the thin line between leadership and management. And honestly speaking, it’s not entirely our fault. We’ve been taught from a young age that it takes control, micro-management, supervision, and monitoring to produce excellent results. We’ve been taught that the boss is always right. If we are the boss, then we need to rule with an iron hand, and if we are the employee, then we need to get to it with no questions asked.
Frankly, this mindset has been quite successful in its time. This was how so many bosses, CEOs, and corporate gurus made their products and their companies a success. Steve Jobs was one such example of a manager who was fired from his own company for being too headstrong, for having too much of a tunnel vision, and having an overall belligerent management style. Want a more contemporary example? Uber’s Travis Kalanick. Not very good leadership inspiration.
There are multiple questions that we need to introspect before siding with management or leadership – if controlling managers have been able to build empires and strong businesses, why then are they being sidelined for a contemporary idea like, “leadership.” Is it a millennial thing? Why are people being taught leadership skills instead of management skills? Why is the world demanding good leaders vs. good managers? What is it about leadership anyway? These are some questions we hope to answer here.
Why the Demand for Leadership?
The answer to this question is pretty obvious. The world is changing. Credit it to technology, to increased awareness, to empowerment of employee rights or to millennials – the fact remains that the world today is no longer the world of the 70s or 80s where employees came to work, greeted the boss, set about with the day’s task, and went home. The workforce is now much more dynamic. Employees want satisfaction, they want empowering managers vs. controlling managers, they want to be valued and trusted over being monitored and supervised. Employees today have more access to information, know their rights, and are able to leverage technology to start their own business or to find additional sources of income. They are no longer bound to the perks of a 9to5 job because the Internet is helping employees worldwide fulfill a dream come true – to be able to work from the comfort of your home and earn good money. Why then would people need to come to offices? And most importantly, why then would people be willing to tolerate tough bosses?
Does that Mean Management Skills are No Longer Needed?
No. It does not mean that management skills are no longer valued; however, they need to be different than what they were in years past. Good managers today count value, create processes rather than enforce them, and boost team morale to achieve organizational goals. But that is where their job ends. Good leaders, on the other hand, create value. They don’t identify the strengths and weaknesses of each individual member of the team – they treat everyone the same. Achievers, go getters, people who can work together to solve a problem. Good leaders don’t attempt to fix a problem ASAP. They attempt to find out the root cause of the problem and prevent such occurrences from happening in the future. Good leaders do not push the blame-button. They train, mentor, give chances, and understand limitations. For an organization to work well, a three-tier process should be implemented – employees need to be trained to be managers, managers need to be trained to be good managers, and good managers need to be trained to be good leaders. You can’t achieve leadership without going through the learning steps.
Mark was employed at a reputed software company as Product Lead. He was a PMP (Project Management Professional) and was an excellent manager. He had the timelines set, the process set, and everyone knew what they had to do on a given day. He made efficient use of Google sheets to create quarterly goals that led to the direct calculation of quarterly bonuses and so on. In short, he was a project management superstar. But Mark could not handle disputes between team members. He would ignore it, ask for HR’s assistance or just try to rectify things on the surface. Gradually though, the disputes turned into disruption of team performance and two of his best employees left the company citing inefficient leadership as the main cause of their exit. What did Mark do wrong? He focused too much on the process, the value, and the numbers but forgot about the people. He was a good manager, but he failed as a leader. A good leader would focus less on the process and more on the people. If the process is absolutely necessary, he would practice automation and use the remaining time to train people. Hence, good managers can become bad managers if they fail to use leadership skills.
How to be A Good Leader?
For some leadership comes naturally, for others it is an acquired skill. If you want to be a good leader, don’t wait for a leadership opportunity. Don’t wait for that promotion to then use your leadership skills. Start from where you are, whatever your level. Practice the art of listening more, the art of communication, the art of connectivity, the art of patience, the art of seeing the bigger picture without neglecting the smaller picture. Practice kindness with firmness, empowerment with accountability, and trust with visibility. In short, it’s the art of balance. And this is why being a good leader is not as easy and there are courses that specialize in teaching organizational leadership.
Key Characteristics of a Great Leader
You now know why we need good leaders, the difference between a manager and a leader, and how you can start to be a good leader. Let’s take a look at some of the key characteristics of a great leader as quoted by some of the world’s most renowned leaders.
- Be a visionary
“The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.” – Sir Winston Churchill
- Be a solution provider
"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand." – Gen. Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State
- Empower people
"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." – Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft
- Speak with actions, not just words
"What you do has far greater impact than what you say." — Stephen Covey, author, businessman and speaker
- Make leadership a natural trait
"Earn your leadership every day." – Michael Jordan, former NBA basketball player
- Use power wisely
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." – President Abraham Lincoln
- Never forget the people
"You manage things; you lead people." – Grace Murray Hopper, U.S. Navy rear admiral
So, do you have it in you to be an excellent leader?