Let’s get something straight: Manager and leader are not synonymous terms.
Manage implies maintaining the status quo. It’s a manager’s job to ensure that things go as planned and that the team meets expectations. Leading, on the other hand, has an inherent forward progression. Leaders encourage change and take us someplace new.
Now those semantic differences don’t mean that being a manager and being a leader are mutually exclusive. But finding a great manager who is also leader, that’s like finding a flying unicorn. The trick to being a master of both skill sets is understanding the nuances that distinguish true leadership.
These are the three things that separate a business leader from a manager:
1. You’re Paid for Managerial Duties, Not Leadership Ones
It’s common to say that someone has been promoted to a “leadership role,” but in reality, they just became a manager. After all, their job title becomes “Senior Sales Manager” not “Sales Leader.”
The sad truth is that, while leadership may be rewarded with occasional bonuses or just a pat on the back, very few people in the business world are paid to be leaders. A good manager makes sure his or her team has the tools it needs, is there to answer questions, and fairly evaluates performance. Because that’s what managers are paid to do.
Managers who are also leaders go further than that. They focus on taking their team beyond what’s expected of them and empowering them to be successful at whatever it is they’re best at. And none of it for their own personal glory, but all for the good of the team and the organization. It’s ideas and possibilities that motivate a leader every day, not a paycheck.
2. Leaders Focus on and Respect Individual Strengths
The 2015 Gallup “State of the American Manager” report found some key differences in effective managerial leadership. One of the big ones was whether a manager focused on improving employees’ weaknesses or on building their strengths. Comparing engaged and disengaged employees, 67% of employees who said their managers focused on strengths were engaged. Only 31% of employees whose managers focused on weaknesses were engaged.
Great leaders know that their team’s strengths are their biggest advantage, and they strive to let each employee make the most out of his or her skills. This means giving employees some autonomy when it comes to picking their own roles in different projects. It’s then up to the leader to provide coaching and guidance for employees so they naturally pick up the tasks that are best suited to their strengths.
Take the company I founded, Coplex, for example. Every member of that team has a broad range of hard skills, soft skills, experiences, and interests. These will even change and grow over time. We recently had a customer who joined us to build a yoga e-commerce app. One of our UX (user experience) designers on the team has been a yoga junkie for years and was a big advocate of the customer’s brand. Naturally, she selected to join that product team. This allowed her to leverage her interests and brand history as well as her hard skills, and the work output has been incredible.
Leaders don’t just view their employees within the confines of their job descriptions. They know and understand what each individual can offer on a deeper level, and use that knowledge to set their team up for success.
3. Leadership Requires Accountability
Many people shy away from accountability. They equate being held accountable for their actions as being punished for their mistakes. But a real leader knows that’s not true. In fact, effective leadership relies on accountability.
There is no quicker way to lose the trust of your employees than passing the buck onto them. Aside from the ethical implications of blaming someone else, not holding yourself accountable sends the message that mistakes are unacceptable; that they’re bad. On the contrary, mistakes can become great opportunities.
Leaders not only own up to their screw-ups but explore what went wrong and how to do better. If done effectively, this will trickle down to those you oversee. Employees will not only openly talk about their mistakes but use them to start a discussion that can help the entire team improve.
It might seem like it’s a thin line between manager and business leader, but in reality it takes a lot to grow from one to the other. Becoming a leader means rethinking the way we conduct day-to-day business, as well as what we have to offer our employees. Being a leader means you’re prepared to take your team forward.
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