Managers have subordinates, leaders have followers.
That short statement took me many years to learn. When I was young and thrust into a management role way before I was ready, I thought leadership meant "getting people to do things." And maybe, in the end, that is what it is. But it’s not by telling or coercing or bribing. It’s way more subtle than that. And if you are looking to carve out a career in managing a business, developing your leadership abilities will be key to your success as a manager. Staff are often demanding, fickle, selfish even. Merely managing the process won’t be enough for you to build an exceptional business.
The good news is that leadership can be learned. It can be improved. And it has to be — because creating an environment where people want to do things, rather than feel they have to, is the difference between great and mediocre. Yet leadership is so hard to define and so hard to find in business.
But perhaps it’s not surprising. Because it is true that many of us in management roles have been promoted into leadership positions because we were good at our job. Or we started our own business, hoping initially to just survive, but our energy and drive finds us now with teams of people to lead. We may, if we are lucky, have learned to manage along the way, but who ever taught us about true leadership? What is it? What does a leader do? How does a leader behave? To really make this point, I am going to pose a question. It’s rhetorical, but it’s directed at anyone reading this who is — or wants to be — a leader.
Why would anyone want to be led by you?
It’s a frightening question. And with good reason. You cannot do anything in business without followers. We know it’s all about the people. And in these "empowered," Generation Y times, followers are hard to find, right? People don’t follow blindly, and they don’t simply do what they are told – unless they believe. So managers had better know what it takes to lead effectively. You must find ways to engage people and rouse their commitment to the company goals. But first, what are we talking about when we say "leadership"? Well, there are many definitions. But knowing the psyche of the average business person, I believe it’s best encapsulated by two linked characteristics. You see, I have come to understand that the people who matter to us most are NOT the ones with the most credentials. People we look up to are not the ones with the most money or the most awards.
The people who matter, the ones that we respect and will ultimately follow, are the ones that care and the ones who have made a difference in our lives. That is leadership at the level we should be focused on now. Leaders will be judged by their ability to impact people and make a difference. Think of your own history in business. Is there a person or two who made a difference, taught you things, mentored, and influenced your values? Showed faith when others didn’t? Inspired you through their actions? That’s leadership. And that’s who we have to be for the next wave of people coming through. So there we have it defined. Leadership is about truly caring and about making a meaningful difference. Leadership is not about talking a good game. It’s not about thumping the table like some deranged half-time football coach. It’s not about dreaming up an esoteric vision statement that no one believes in or acts on. Leadership is action.
It’s what you do that counts. It’s your behaviour that people will remember and emulate. It’s your example that people will follow. This post originally appeared on The Savage Truth.