That’s kind of a funny title to me, honestly. The difference between a great leader and a regular manager—as if the two are actually similar. Like asking, “what’s the difference between an orange and a tangerine?” A leader and a manager are so entirely different from each other, in my opinion. More like an orange and a shovel!
But this question is asked because there is a perception that they’re similar. A false perception. So many people are so used to a corporate hierarchy that they assume that their superior—their manager—is also someone they should follow and look up to. And a lot of managers automatically assume that their status makes them a leader, that people should look up to them and hold them in high regard.
All that is completely wrong and makes no sense. You have little say in who is assigned to be your manager, but you choose who you are going to follow. A manager of a department is just a title—it’s just another name for someone who was given a certain amount of authority over other employees. Yet, any one of those employees could be a leader.
It also greatly matters what area of life we’re talking about. For the sake of this article, we’re going to look at the traditional manager as leader in a company. Keep in mind, though, that this extends to all areas of life, like being a leader within your family and community, or being a leader within your circle of friends and with your hobbies.
As an online marketer, I can’t simply manage. With my colleagues, clients, and contractors, there is very little room for simply telling them what to do. I have to back everything up with my actions, my performance, and my integrity. Being an entrepreneur has required that I learn how to lead, and fast.
My many years in the corporate world gave me many lessons on the friction created when people think of being a leader as an assigned title, as opposed to an earned status that has to be backed up by daily actions.
If you’re a manager at your company, how can you become a better leader? As an employee, what traits do you look for in a leader that distinguishes them from just a manager? Let’s look at some key points.
1. A great leader connects daily work with greater goals, rather than focusing on short-term results.
The larger the company, the easier it is to lose site of greater goals. Even at the largest, most successful companies in the world, you will find within them a series of departments doing the same tasks day in and day out. Microsoft, Google, Virgin Inc., all have budget and accounting departments, operations, and IT departments. In just about every company in every industry, the purpose of those jobs is pretty much the same.
When I used to work in investment banking and trading, I often had this empty feeling that my work was just getting lost among the mass of work throughout the company. I’d hand it in by a certain deadline, and I’d rarely hear anymore about it. Who did it actually go to? Who actually looked at it and relied on it? How did it actually contribute to the company as a whole and what goals did it serve?
Every goal, no matter how great, has to be broken down into smaller goals, daily goals, and eventually actionable steps. These actionable steps make up an employees job description and duties. But how often are employees reminded of why they’re doing what they’re doing?
It’s that employee’s job to go in each day and take care of those assigned duties. It’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure that his team is completing all of the assigned duties.
A leader, however, keeps that greater goal in mind. A leader is aware of how this seemingly boring and repetitive work is contributing to and accomplishing a greater goal. A leader knows that success is boring, that it is made up of consistency and discipline.
A manager focuses on making sure all the daily work is done, which is his job and makes him look good and will eventually lead to a promotion. A leader does all that, but at the same time, makes sure his employees are aware of their contribution to the greater goals.
2. A great leader thinks of people as people instead of seeing only titles and organization.
A manager can justifiably only look at his job as managing a department. Everyone’s title gives him a clear summary of what they do and what to expect from them, including himself. A manager has a place in an organization and he/she is either looking to remain in that capacity successfully or move up higher within the company.
Within that context are actual employees with lives and feelings of their own. A leader is aware of that on a regular basis. Knowing who your employees are, their strength and weaknesses, their aspirations and fears, their dreams and passions is an intangible but very valuable asset. It allows you to organize the work within your department to everybody’s strength. It allows people’s self confidence to grow.
When people feel appreciated and valued, their energy level goes up. Their pride and sense of integrity in their work goes up. Not just for themselves but because they also care how they reflect on their manager.
3. A great leader is excited about members’ achievements instead of feeling threatened.
A manager is also an employee, with his own goals and motives. Everyone wants to get ahead and be recognized for their achievements. As a manager, that position often means that you get recognized and congratulated for the success of your department, which is fair enough because the functioning of the department is the manager’s responsibility.
At the same time, it is possible for a member of the team to be individually recognized for a job well done.
There are two courses of action here for both scenarios above. Unfortunately, the more common scenario is that the manager will accept the praise and recognition for the performance of the department and pat himself on the back for being a great manager. And when a member of his team is recognized for their accomplishments and contributions without him, there will be a natural reaction of feeling threatened. After all, an employee moving up could mean him moving down.
A leader won’t look at it that way. A leader will immediately remind the organization that it was the work of the individuals that allowed his team to perform so well. They made his job easy, and the recognition should go to them, by name.
A leader will be the first one to stand up and shout “congratulations!” to a team member without any feeling of threat. Why? Because a leader revels in the success of others and knows that pulling other up is how he will succeed, not by keeping others down.
4. A great leader feels responsible when members make mistakes instead of blaming the team.
Accepting responsibility is one of the more undervalued traits out there. Sure, we can all agree that it’s admirable and everyone should do it, but easier said than done, which is why it can be so hard to teach! It has to be taught by example—so if it’s easier said that done, who’s doing the teaching?
A manager locates the source of a mistake and blames that person—which is fine; a person should accept blame for their mistakes and strive to do better next time. But the manager is also the representative and advocate for this team. So when he blames his team for a mistake to people outside of the team, two things can happen. First, it makes his team look bad. Second, his team can lose trust and respect for him because they now know that he won’t advocate for them and is putting himself first.
A leader, however, sees the performance of his team as his responsibility. Since their work reflects on him, he accepts responsibility for their performance. Mistakes are part of human nature, but they can also reflect a problem with the system that the team functions within. Why was the mistake made, and how can it be prevented in the future? What can the team improve? These are the concerns that come to a leader’s mind. While he will be aware of who made the mistake and why, he will not announce it to the world. Instead, he will accept responsibility for what happened.
A leader leads by example. By accepting responsibility for the mistakes of his team, his team will learn to accept responsibility for their work and naturally be more thorough in the future. This small gesture also helps his team members improve the quality of their work and, therefore, their careers—which, as we know, a leader cares about.
5. A great leader is more concerned with the process than the results.
What’s more important: the result or the process? Every company or organization is going to be concerned with the bottom line, of course. Results have to be seen in order for goals to be achieved. A manager is keenly aware of what work needs to get done and the deadlines that apply. A manager has to show results and will be held accountable for them. So it’s in a managers best interest to demand and expect results from his team.
If you look at the bigger picture you’ll see that, with a proper system in place, work will get done thoroughly, on time, and results will be a natural by product of how efficient the system in place is. So what if results aren’t being shown consistently? Or to the desired level? A leader understands that it’s the process that’s most important. One bottleneck could be handicapping an otherwise efficient system and team of people.
A leader is keenly aware that it’s the process that needs to be nurtured and monitored. Results are just a symptom.
6. A great leader uses passion to motivate and inspire instead of using authority.
As tempting as it is to wield your authority when a deadline is approaching or when better performance is needed, it can only take you so far. In some cases, it can be effective or even necessary to use your authority. Tough love has its place. But again, it can only take you so far and it typically has short term results. People aren’t going to go home with growing respect for a manager that constantly says “do as I say.”
A leader has passion and knows that passion is contagious. Even on mundane projects, a leader can be passionate about the performance of his team, about completing the project and the sense of accomplishment everyone will get out of it.
A leader seeks to use his passion to inspire his team. Inspiration will allow people to take their effectiveness and productivity to new heights, every single time.
7. A great leader actively supports his team instead of handing out assignments.
My business is entirely remote. My students, contractors and colleagues live all over the place. The only way I can see great results with my team is to get in there with them. Everything I teach, I am doing myself. Every assignment that I contract out, I have worked on myself and in many cases will continue to work on and help those contractors out if they need it.
A manager can tend to simply hand out assignments and expect them to be completed. A leader actively supports his team and doesn’t hesitate to help his team out when it’s needed, as opposed to sitting idly by looking at the deadline.
A leader considers himself part of the team, fully interested in the success and well being of everyone on the team.
Do you agree? Disagree? Is there anything that I missed? Please share your thoughts below!
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