There can be no doubt that effective managers are valued in the workplace. This is probably why LinkedIn ranked people management as #4 out of the top 10 most desired hard skills for 2019. Without management, organizations would have no structure and everyone would be in charge, making decisions and taking actions that are not aligned to any particular goal. Managers are vital to maintaining order and creating a foundation for a successful business.
Interestingly, management does not always equate with leadership. There can also be experienced employees who are looked up to as leaders in their own right. They support growth in their teams and embrace learning new skills to become better. They enjoy mentoring less experienced co-workers and always volunteer to take on new projects. Sometimes, these leaders advance and become managers or department heads, but usually they’ve been viewed as a leader for a long time with or without a title.
If you are struggling to break out of the management box to become a good leader, how can you develop these traits? First, it comes down to understanding what a leader is.
What does leadership look like?
While every leader is unique, there are some universal traits that most leaders share, including: accountability, confidence, inspiration, honesty, decisiveness, optimism, and focus. In many industries, leadership can also mean being able to juggle large numbers of people and resources, while understanding the bigger picture of the corporate mission. Many leaders are respected because they can make things happen. They have the power to motivate and inspire those around them in a way that creates the opportunity for action or change. True leaders are authentic and dedicated, two attributes that helps others trust in their message and follow their lead.
“Management is doing the right thing; leadership is doing the right things.”
— Peter F. Drucker
What’s the difference between leadership and management?
Many business professionals make the mistake of thinking that the job title of “manager” automatically entitles one to respect as a leader. This is not the case. Great leaders can come from anywhere at any level of the organization. What are the general differences between managers and leaders?
A manager is assigned to oversee and be responsible for the important aspects of a team, a project, or a job. Employees need to be held accountable for completing work, meeting performance goals, and having access to the resources they need. Managers may be chosen due to their demonstration of these abilities and their commitment to the organization.
A leader is influential, can take command, and sets an example for others. Employees need someone they can model their own behaviors after, to guide them through difficult times, and to act as an advocate on their behalf. Leaders do not focus on making themselves look good, rather they focus on bringing out the best in their team members.
In the best case scenario, a manager has developed leadership skills that can support all aspects of their role and helps encourage leadership opportunities for others.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
— U.S. President John F. Kennedy
Can leadership skills be learned?
It used to be believed that certain people were gifted with natural leadership abilities from birth. Now we know that this is not the case. Leaders come from all backgrounds and experiences, but what sets them apart is the willingness to learn. Many of the skills that leaders possess come from career and life experience.
The good thing about leadership is that there are professional development courses that focus on leadership skills. Many workplaces have either developed their own courses, passed down from previous leaders, or the HR department has done the smart thing and invested in leadership development classes to grow people and promote them.
If you want to become a better leader, it’s up to you to invest in yourself through education and practice. You should also seek out a mentor that demonstrates great leadership abilities, and follow other leaders who have shaped their industries. Joining leadership groups and participating in ongoing learning offer you the best chance the leader your people need.
“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
— Sheryl Sanberg, COO of Facebook
Why is leadership development important?
It’s critical for companies to provide opportunities for employees to learn leadership skills. The most obvious benefit is that this enables the company to promote from within. In this day and age where talent is getting scarcer, it makes sense to training loyal employees to take on leadership roles instead of seeking this externally.
Secondly, the many skills that are typical for leaders are good for business. Things like strong communication skills help in all areas of a career, and they facilitate good relationships with customers. Knowing how to delegate can boost sales efforts. These skills are extremely transferable, therefore worth investing in.
“Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
— Vince Lombardi, American football coach, and NFL executive
How does leadership impact culture and employee morale?
When someone steps into his or her leadership abilities, through training and mentoring, there is a visible difference in the way the culture and employee morale improves. Leaders know that their role isn't to boss everyone around or scare people into doing what they want done. Instead, well-trained leaders know that the way to success is by bringing out the best in others. Understanding the unique gifts that every team member brings to the table, and then promoting them makes the organization a happier and more productive place. When people’s skills and interests are matched with the right projects and they feel appreciated, this impacts the corporate culture for the positive.
“Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.”
—Margaret J. Wheatley, author, management consultant, and leadership expert
Can you be both a good leader and manager?
The good news is that, yes, you can be both a good leader and manager. It all depends on if you are willing to take a good long look at yourself, admit your faults and get training to become better. While managers are often expected to be good leaders, those who have developed bad habits or seen bad examples can be negatively influenced -- and they fail as managers and leaders. But it’s never too late to turn things around.