University textbooks teach that manager and leader are dissimilar qualities, in that managers are concerned with numbers, while leaders tend to value the human factor. This may be true, but what about real-world examples?
Even though management schools make a point about that trendy term “leadership”, we still encounter more managers than leaders out there because leadership is still a vague concept assigned to people with charism, which is another vague vapid term. In the modern business world, we are witnessing a leadership deficit because no one taught managers how to practically be leaders. Rarely discussed in university classrooms, the actual reality of leadership, as opposed to bland management, may elude even the brightest of educators.
From practical experience and applied knowledge, this article breaks down what I think are the definitive qualities that make a leader more than a simple manager:
Accountability. It should be a no-brainer that leaders are responsible for their team’s performance. They are responsible for their department not just to their superiors, but also to the people they lead. It’s easy to blame your subordinates, but a leader willingly takes the blame, even when objectively it was a team member’s fault. And the reason for that is that a leader is indirectly responsible for each team member’s mistakes since it’s a leader’s job to proactively identify issues, to train, to monitor, and to extract maximum performance out of the people involved. A leader takes the blame for not finding the right way to communicate effectively or to leverage the specific skills of specific people in that specific way that triggers them to unfold their productivity. This includes holding themselves accountable for conflicts, as well as their constructive resolution. Leaders are decisive and they stand by their choices or mistakes. This means that they own their mistakes instead of looking to blame team members or external factors. Even if it’s a team member’s fault, a leader takes full responsibility for them because they were under the leader’s wing, the leader’s area of influence and control. The leader is willing to take the hit and does so boldly because leaders are confident in their ability to formulate plans to manage disasters and to improve anything and anyone.
Delegation. This means avoiding micromanagement. Sure, a leader may be better at performing a specific task that is the responsibility of a team member, but letting them do it and accepting the perceived relative imperfection of the result, basically not micromanaging, keeps the ball rolling, the team working, keeps employees happy, promotes initiative, gives them a sense of ownership of their work, and encourages them to be creative and innovative because they are entrusted with the responsibility of their tasks. Micromanaging kills all initiative, creativity, motivation, inspiration, productivity, not to mention the negative effects on trust, self-worth, sense of purpose and mental wellbeing. Leaders are not afraid to take a leap of faith in the team they themselves have developed, and they are confident that it will perform well as a whole.
Involvement. A leader involves team members in everything that’s going on that remotely concerns them. Be it a casual brief on the strategy of the organization, or some everyday harmless gossip about the working environment (work-life happens to be the largest part of people’s lives), involving people and not leaving them in the dark helps them feel relevant and appreciated. Team members who feel isolated and distanced by management will demonstrate low levels of motivation, creativity, drive, productivity, and loyalty.
Interest. A leader is genuinely interested in their team members’ wellbeing. Leaders are proactive in identifying their team members’ concerns and they create the right environment where people can feel empowered to talk and share what’s on their mind, freely, without fearing negative repercussions. Leaders keep the communication frame light, fun and friendly without compromising professionalism so that team members can feel comfortable to share. Leaders frequently enquire how their people are, how their health is, if the working environment is promoting their wellbeing, and what they can do as leaders to improve workplace wellness and productivity, as well as employee relevance and development. But a leader’s job doesn’t just end at asking and not following up. Leaders don’t just ask. They are also willing to work extra and put the necessary processes in place to address team members’ concerns, where possible. Team members who request something reasonable that improves their wellbeing and productivity and don’t get a response may feel betrayed and unappreciated, especially when that something is relatively easy for management to do.
Mentoring. A manager views their employees as tools to get tasks done. A leader views their team members as people with concerns who need to be cared for and supported to grow as individuals first and then as professionals. Leaders are mentors in that they serve as role models to inspire their team members. Moreover, leaders provide the necessary opportunities and put in the work to develop their team members’ skill-sets. Failure to guide and provide the necessary opportunities for team members to grow will inevitably lead to team members feeling betrayed, unappreciated, and having no purpose. The impact of that on wellbeing and productivity can be severe, to say the least.
Emotional intelligence. Leaders are perceptive of their team members’ emotions, as well as their own. They value emotions and consider how emotions of others are affected by their decisions. If marketing teaches one thing, is that emotions determine our choices more than rationality, and success in anything comes from inspiration, positive mindsets, loyalty, ambition, and drive, all of which are emotions. Great leaders know how to tap into those emotions and leverage them to empower their team members first, and then the team as a whole.
To sum up, unless an organization is interested in mediocre results at best, then managers need to become leaders. You can tell a good leader by observing their team members. Are they inspired? Are they happy? Are they driven by a sense of purpose when it comes to their work? Do they admire their supervisor? That’s how you spot a model leader.
Article originally posted on Medium.