Leaders and Leadership

By Bernard Callus on 17 July 2019

The words leader and leadership get bandied around a lot. In fact they are terms that are often used interchangeably. In organisations we hear people use phrases like “our leadership team.” In this instance the term leadership is referring to a group of leaders. However, leader and leadership is not the same thing. Let’s delve a little deeper to distinguish the differences.

Who is a leader?

Simply put the leader is one who leads others. Leaders exist in all walks of life, in families, in teams. Within organisations leaders can have different titles ranging from Principal to Vice-Chancellor or from Director to CEO. Ultimately, the leaders are accountable for the entire organisation, for everything, the buck stops with them.

What are some of the characteristics of being a leader? Leaders create and share their vision for the future. They lead by example. Leaders get to know their people and inspire, motivate and encourage them into new and exciting roles and directions; especially in directions their people wouldn’t have led themselves. They identify and work with their peoples’ talents and strengths. They nurture and encourage growth and provide their people with development opportunities. They thank and acknowledge their people for their effort. They give away credit for successes and conversely, they are accountable for the failures.

You can lead from anywhere

We usually associate our leaders with the senior person or team of people in charge, typically the CEO or the executive team. However, this is a limiting view. Leaders can emerge from anywhere within the organisation. As I wrote previously in “More Leaders, Less Managers” (see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/more-leaders-less-managers-bernard-callus/), we can lead from any position and this should be encouraged. Creating opportunities for staff, especially younger staff, enables them to step up, take the initiative and develop themself as a leader. Notably, developing leaders encourages faster results, as the organisation does not rely solely on its senior leaders to decide and implement change. Professional sporting teams recognise this need. Once, a captain and vice-captain sufficed, now elite teams have a captain, often co-captains and a leadership team. Importantly, leading is not left to one or two individuals and as we saw this week when David Teague, the interim coach of the Carlton AFL team said, “we want every one of our players to be leaders and to step up and execute their role.”

What is leadership?

What then distinguishes leadership from leader? As mentioned earlier, leadership is a collective noun that labels the leaders within organisations. Leadership is also an adjective that can be used to describe the actions of our leaders. In other words it describes the types of action and change our leaders are implementing. For example, we might see our leaders implementing bold or creative ideas and consequently we may describe this as “bold or creative leadership.” While these descriptions are valid, leadership is also widely appreciated as being concerned with the development of people. In my experience this is the most valuable way to think about leadership especially from an organisational view.

If you give someone a fish…

As a leader I am responsible for developing my people to lead and to provide them with training and opportunities for growth and success. Neglecting to do this keeps my people small and I do not fulfil on one of my key responsibilities as a leader. When I worked as a scientist I didn’t see my students as disposable assets to serve my needs as a researcher. Rather, I saw them as the future and mentored and developed them into scientists that are capable of leading a team of people and projects by themself. In doing so, I reaped more output from them and they required less from me. To me leadership is best summed up with this saying. “Give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. Teach them how to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.” As a leader what more could you want than to cause a team of fisherman?

What type of leader are you? Do you only care about how good you look or how well your team or organisation is performing to make you look good? Do you only care about the numbers or do you take a genuine interest in the well-being and development of your people? Developing your leadership will return great results to you and your organisation. Remember, a person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected. Take care of your people and the numbers will look after themself.