At work it often seems to me that we are overloaded with managers and simultaneously lacking leaders. I remember when I was much younger looking to senior people for leadership because “that’s what they’re here for, that’s their job.” I didn’t see myself as a leader because I wasn’t in a senior role. At the same time I didn’t step up as a leader because “it wasn’t my job” or “I’m not paid to do that.” I assert that for many of us this sounds familiar. Rather than take the lead ourself, we expect others to lead, and we sit back and complain when they don’t.
Lead from anywhere
One of my greatest lessons was learning that I didn’t have to be in a senior role to lead. Because I avoided my responsibility, I failed to develop myself as a leader and demonstrate my leadership. This was a painful lesson. What I came to appreciate is that you don’t need permission to show up as a leader, and importantly, you can lead from anywhere. Problems provide us with opportunities to lead. Often, this may require courage to lead upwards to those more senior in the organisation. However, taking the initiative and stepping into your leadership sets you apart from those unwilling to do so and this will help advance your career.
Leaders require a different skill set
People in senior positions are often mistaken for being leaders. However, being in a senior role does not make one a leader. In reality, if someone is good at their job they are often promoted to senior positions like a director or a department head. This is the crux of the problem. Their technical skills that helped them succeed and get promoted become obsolete in their new role. If our knowledge and skill is limited to the technical then all we know is how to perform the job. All we can offer is advice to supervisees on how to do the job. This is a perfect way to set up an environment for micro-management. Managers in particular, focus on process and past performance. Conversely, leaders require a different skill set, one that focuses on relationships and future performance. A leader shifts their attention from doing the job to looking after those whose role it is to do the job. Large egos and a lack of people skills make this transition difficult, if not impossible. Thankfully, the skills required to be a leader can be learned.
The best leaders are interested in their people
In my experience, and that of others I’ve spoken to, the best leaders are interested in their people. They take the time to get to know them; to learn about their personal life, their past, and aspirations. If they ask “how are you today?” it’s because they genuinely want to know the answer. Feeling understood and cared for by your boss is uplifting and much more likely to motivate action to “go the extra mile” to cause results. Of course, the opposite is to work for someone who treats you like a number and a disposable asset. Feeling like you don’t matter is disempowering, totally unmotivating and leaves you thinking, “why bother?” If you treat your people like a number, you will need to provide them with lots of incentive to motivate them to put in extra effort.
A good leader also challenges their people and gives them opportunities to grow and develop. They identify and work with strengths and abilities and nurture with words of encouragement like “I know you can do this.” Importantly, they inspire their people to move in new directions or to act in ways that take them out of their comfort zone to achieve greater success.
Are you a leader or a manager? Do you show leadership by taking care of those in your charge? Do you challenge and provide opportunities to bring the best out in your people? Do you sit back and complain or take the initiative and lead regardless of your position in the organisation? More leaders and better leaders will create a world where people love going to work, and are happier, healthier and more productive. Who, like me, wants a world like this?