Even though “leadership” is one of the most common words in the English language, people’s interpretation of it varies widely. But understanding a few basic concepts about leadership opens the door to leading more effectively.
First, people in charge are typically called “managers,” but they’re expected to both manage and lead. Managing and leading are two totally different activities. Managing involves the effective use of resources such as funds, supplies, schedules, systems, tools, equipment, and so forth. It takes special abilities to administer these resources, but none of these skills applies to working with people. On the other hand, when managers lead, they influence the performance of team members to perform at their best, both individually and collectively. Simply put, you manage things, and you lead people.
Another basic fact about leadership is that it’s not just something executives do. Most books on leadership are about presidents, generals and CEOs and the more strategic things they do. The truth is, foremen, section chiefs and team leaders are leaders, too. Their success depends mostly on how they deal with their direct reports. All managers need to have effective leadership skills: from first-line supervisors to middle managers to executives.
Also, leadership isn’t about personal qualities, attributes or traits. It’s about what you DO. Yes, having good judgment is important, but in the end, it has to translate into effective action. When you lead, people can see you doing it.
So what actions are we talking about? How do effective leaders get people to perform at their best?
#1 – DEVELOP. To work at their best, people need know-how. As a manager, you optimize their abilities by helping them get stronger on the job. You do this by stating expectations, setting an example, instructing, giving feedback, coaching lessons from experience and supporting learning activities.
#2 – INSPIRE. Team members may know how, but do they want to contribute their best work? You influence their desire to work by tapping into their motivation. Not with rah-rah speeches or monetary incentives, but by setting an example, getting to know their values, needs and interests, expressing the team vision, assigning the right tasks to the right people, and showing appreciation for jobs well done.
#3 – SUPPORT. Think of yourself as a “servant leader,” the one who gives team members what they need to succeed, removing barriers and allocating information and resources. These are things they don’t have access to except when empowered through the chain of management. This happens during delegation, when responsibility, authority and guidelines are shared along with the assignment. It also happens during execution, when you trust someone with freedom of action.
#4 – ENCOURAGE. Work isn’t easy. People nearly always encounter adversity-problems, mistakes, shortfalls, and failures. When it happens, they could lose energy or quit. You need to give timely encouragement so that people work through the adversity and continue striving.
As a manager, you’re responsible for all four of these areas of leadership. Doing it all will require effective leadership skills and personal strengths. You aren’t born with these behavior patterns. You ingrain them by applying the best practices every day. So a big part of your job will always be to grow stronger as a leader.