With the economy continuing to struggle, the onus increasingly falls on the leadership of companies for their survival. The fact is that “leadership” – which includes providing answers, direction and vision for the business – can no longer come from only one or two individuals such as the CEO, president or executive council. It must come from every manager and supervisor as well.
While it is true that leadership and management are not the same thing, the concepts certainly do overlap. In most cases, running the business operations is the role of management, but building and growing the business requires leadership. The key aspects of management include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling and problem solving. Its function is to keep systems and processes running as smoothly as possible and making certain that the right people are in the right place. Leadership, on the other hand, defines what the future of the business should look like. It strategically aligns the people and departments with that vision through interaction, interdependence and horizontal integration. Leadership gets everyone pulling on the same rope in the same direction. It informs, involves and inspires its followers to succeed and to overcome obstacles. It is about communication and cooperation. Leadership is what originally creates the business and continuously provides direction. It involves the constant tweaking and adapting of the enterprise to deal with the changes and impermanence it will face throughout its life. Therefore, management keeps the organization under control and produces results. Leadership produces change. The true art to leadership is the ability to determine the right paths to take and then to inspire people to help you carry them out.
In a recent conversation with a general manager, I asked him if he manages or leads. He answered, “Yes, to both questions. Around here, I’m the only guy who is responsible. If my people don’t know what to do when they run into a situation, I’m usually too far away, too busy or unavailable to tell them. My job is to make sure they know. What they do depends on the situation they’re facing and only they can judge that. If they have to passively await orders from me, they’ve lost their ability to help. If I have to tell them what to do, it’s way too late. The responsibility is always mine, but the decision lies with whoever is on the spot. And making a decision requires as much courage as it does judgment. The way I look at it is that either they accept responsibility, learn to make decisions and become leaders, or they’re going to require a lot of supervision. And that to me is not only unproductive, but one helluva waste of time.”
Whether it involves management or leadership, everyone within the company, regardless of their rank or position, must have a clear understanding of where the company is going and what they can do to help get it there. What managers can do as leaders is to plan and to set priorities, to earn the trust of their followers and to motivate them to want to see the plan succeed. They must have the courage to make decisions, determine the right things to do and then ensure that they are done right.
Leaders must help people believe that the cause is just and worth fighting for. That they can be effective, that the goals set forth are achievable and that there is a better future ahead of them if they can just accomplish what they have set out to do.
Managers and supervisors must learn to be proactive. They must understand the overall strategy, help develop and implement the operating plan, manage and tweak the plan to ensure that it succeeds and proactively anticipate what to do next.
What Exactly Is a Leader?
Leaders are those responsible for making the right decisions and doing the right things. Their first priority is to build the business, not to run the business. They set a course and a direction for the company. They know where their business is going and where it must go. They control their own destiny and do not allow the “business gods” to determine the future of the company they are leading. Leaders don’t think themselves into a new way of acting; they act themselves into a new way of thinking. They know that they get from their people the very same behavior that they themselves exhibit and tolerate. They establish the company’s culture based on primary values that define what gets accepted, respected and rewarded. They leave little doubt as to what is valued, recognized and tolerated and what is not. They create a climate in which there is tremendous pride in making significant contributions to shared goals. They encourage and foster the concept of “renewal” and continuous improvement. Leaders are self-confident. They are not afraid to hire people with talents far superior to their own. They build strong, dynamic and passionate executive management teams consisting of the best and the brightest that the company can afford – because leaders know they cannot get the company from where it is now to where it needs to be, without such a team. Leaders ensure that the right people are in key, pivotal places; people who can help move the company forward. They make recruitment an ongoing and essential part of the company’s culture. They ensure that clearly defined goals and priorities are established, and policies are in writing. Leaders ensure that the right systems and processes are in place to make the company run efficiently and effectively. Leaders ensure that management understands those systems and processes. They ensure that the company is strategically aligned from the top down and the bottom up — that everyone understands their roles, responsibilities, job functions and contributions toward keeping the company moving forward and on course. Leaders ensure that their people and themselves continue to grow and become more valuable to the company and the customers. They inform, involve, inspire and challenge their people while holding everyone accountable. Leaders put measurements in place and make it clear what is expected of everyone. They deliver on their promises so that things get done at every level and in every department of the company. They let their people know what is going on while letting their people’s voices be heard. Leaders endorse the concept of “synergy” – that what is good for the whole is good for the individual and vice versa. They understand that the more teamwork there is, the more their people will come to rely upon and trust one another. Leaders know that the greater their people become the greater they themselves become and the greater the company becomes. Leaders understand that titles are given and with that comes subordination, but leadership is earned — that leadership is bestowed upon them by their followers and as a result they must earn their followers, not just accept subordinates. Leaders are authentic and consistent. There is never doubt about who they are or what they stand for. They build trust and get “buy in” through their own actions and the culture of the company. They teach and build with a book in one hand and a brick in the other. They motivate and energize others. Leaders are open to new ideas regardless of their source. Leaders are judgmental and decisive because they have to be. Leaders are courageous. They have a need to achieve and are not afraid to take risks. Leaders never give up, but they always know when to get out of the way.