Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. – Stephen Covey
When I was in fifth grade, I was excited but nervous to be selected as one of only a few students chosen to be a part of the school Safety Patrol.
I remember how good I felt to wear the orange safety belt and badge that clearly set me apart from the other students. Adults trusted me to advise students in those hallways. But then I started to worry—what if I made a mistake? What if the students didn’t listen to me? What would I say or do? Eventually, the worries began to dominate my thoughts, and I had to dig even deeper to meet the expectations placed upon me. The longer I was in the role though, a funny thing happened. My confidence returned, then grew.
I was more conscious about my own choices in the hall, even when I was “off duty,” because I knew all of the other students were looking to me to set the example. This seemingly cliché story from childhood is significant—it’s my first memory of leading others—and for me, the experience of doing so still feels strikingly similar.
Leadership is defined as simply “the power or ability to lead other people.” What does leadership look like to you? That answer is going to be different for just about everyone. If you ask a customer service manager, they may tell you that leadership is being collaborative and empathetic, while at the same time focusing on team building and talent spotting. A sales director may say that you have to be confident and aggressive, decisive and self-reliant and focus on execution and closing the deal. If you ask a baby boomer, they might tell you that leadership is inspiring loyalty (whether to customers, colleagues or the company itself). For Millennials, leadership is often defined as bringing creativity and vision to everything you do, not just your job.
Regardless of generation or job title, leadership is having a mutually beneficial goal or strategic vision, and the courage to make decisions based on your ethics and principles. That isn’t always enough though. You also need to possess the ability to create a culture where your employees have the courage and comfort to openly discuss new ideas and challenge the status quo without reprimand.
Is a manager also a leader? Sometimes, but not always. Leaders will inherently keep the big picture front of mind, and they aren’t afraid to chase risky propositions, particularly when the opportunity for reward looks favorable. Managers, by the nature of their jobs, have to pay close attention to all of the individual milestones necessary for their team to accomplish a particular task, and for many, that process can be tedious enough without a larger picture to examine. Many natural leaders do work in managerial roles though, often as one of their own career milestones.
Leadership is not only about leading others, but also delivering value by proactively addressing the most critical needs of the particular position. Natural leaders have this great ability to influence colleagues, managers and even underperformers to be more effective, efficient and proactive. Usually, they are doing this by building quality relationships, speaking confidently, and performing under pressure.
Leaders are all around us, often in the places we expect (corner offices, board rooms) but sometimes in places we don’t (receptionist desks, mail rooms). We all define it differently, see it in others differently, and live it differently. But the common element in all situations is people. Take the time to understand yourself and the people around you. Spend time with your team to figure out what motivates them. For true leaders, the ultimate sign of success is in assisting others in their achievements.
Katrina Dietrich is a HR Consulting Manager at MCM CPAs & Advisor. Prior to joining MCM, Katrina developed a strong general HR background, gaining expertise in employee relations, recruitment, mentoring, training and development, in particular within the manufacturing and healthcare sectors.
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