Leadership: You Know It When You See It!
There is a continuous dialog on the internet and in management publications as to what defines leadership. Leaders are often contrasted with managers since a manager heads an organization and therefore must, by definition, be a leader. This is not necessarily the case.
Managers normally have a defined position in the organization and generally operate on the conservative side of the guidelines of their job description. They are comfortable directing activities and addressing problems within a narrow range and when that range is exceeded they seek direction from higher ups or pass it over to peers (HR, Accounting, etc.) in the organization. To vary from this "narrow path" raises the risk component of their job as they are then "on their own", have "stuck their neck out" or have become "independent."
Most managers are out of their comfort zone when they move too far into the risk zone. They are generally risk averse and withdraw to defined areas of responsibility where they are licensed to operate. Unfortunately unpredictable and uncertain business conditions occur at inconvenient times that require someone in the organization to step forward and deal with the exceptional condition that is outside the anticipated management guidelines. Leaders rise up and "lead" either his direct reports or others in the organization to successfully confront, over come obstacles and resolve the business challenge. This is leadership!
A leader is capable of performing as a manager but is also gifted with the innate ability to recognize when they should step out and wrestle a risky situation down into a controllable event. This often exposes the leader to criticism by others who are threatened by their confidence to exceed their management responsibilities and successfully perform outside of the box. This person is a valued asset to the company providing that senior management (primarily the owner in a small company) is not threatened by them and know how to mentor and develop them to greater levels of leadership and contribution to the success of the company.
A leader possesses certain critical skills that will enable them to be effective in operating outside manager guidelines. This skill set often includes the following:
- Vision - They have a good sense of the long range view of how things are supposed to operate.
- High Energy & Positive Attitude - Inspiring a group to move in a critical direction over a short period of time requires energy and a positive attitude to overcome objections and obstacles that will stop and defeat others.
- Anticipation - Able to assimilate and translate various events into a condition that if addressed early eliminates a serious problem from developing.
- Assertiveness - Has strong convictions on why their objectives are important and will pursue them even if they are unpopular.
- Observer of People - They realize that the strength of the team is dependant upon each individual and the leader will mentor team members where they are weak and, where possible, recruit people with key strategic skills that complement the group.
- Accountable - Take ownership and commit to what is the right thing to do and what needs to be done.
- Influencer - Can successfully present the need for others to respond and perform in a manner they might not have done otherwise.
This combination of skills enables a leader to see what needs to be done, energize and inspire people, lead people to focus on “I can!” and not “I can’t!”, draw the right people together into an effective team that results in above expectation performance, and place the recognition for the successful outcome on those who worked the problem and not themselves. It is truly an exceptional experience to be lead by a leader.
As a company owner are you recognized as a leader? This can be a challenge for an owner where their “power” can be mistaken for leadership. You may be termed the leader but do you demonstrate the leadership characteristics that result in empowerment and positive motivation for the organization. This may be difficult to measure by yourself and you may need to rely on an outside resource – professional associate, board member, or consultant – to give you independent perspective. Take the initiative and evaluate your leadership strengths and weakness. Experienced management professionals often struggle with the definition of what makes a leader – but – they are pretty agreed that they can recognize it in someone when they observe how they operate on a daily basis and under special (and stressful) circumstances.
They know it when they see it!