What Leadership Is, and What It Is Not

Posted: Apr 6, 2015
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Leadership. It is a simple word with complex meaning. One of the biggest issues I see managers make, new and old, is the assumption that a title automatically dictates the authority of a leader. Anyone who’s been around the block a couple of times knows there is no statement farther from the truth.

"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Leadership, in its truest form, is about serving the people you are charged with leading to make certain they grow. It is about ensuring your people aspire to their “moonshot.” Doing this takes dedication to mentorship.

So why is this important?

Ninety percent of CEOs say engagement is a critical component to an organization’s success, but only 30% of employees report being engaged. And the majority cite their direct managers as the number one source of their disengagement.

What is engagement? It is the extent in which an employee feels passionate about their job (not simply satisfied). Engagement is specially achieved by ensuring an employee feels fulfilled and valued.

And how do you get employees to feel valued and fulfilled? According to Gallop, the majority of employees want the following from their leaders:

  • Mentorship: Employees want to feel their manager is invested in their professional growth for the long-term.
  • Follow-through: Employees want to know when their manager says something will be done, it will.
  • Accountability: Employees want to see that people are held to a standard for their work. If someone is not pulling their weight, they expect action.
  • Fairness: Employees want to feel like their leader's decision is made form an objective place. Perceived fairnesss is sometimes difficult when tough calls are made.

Most would agree that the majority of leaders want to engage their staff and be seen as inspirational. So, where's the disconnect?

Oftentimes leaders have day to day responsibilities outside of management. Many are unsuccessful juggling both the leading and managing of staff and their daily workloads.  There are several reasons for this.

As leaders we were often promoted for traits such as our ability to promote solve, put out fires, and fix issues. In essence, we were strong individual contributors. Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader takes significant forethought that most are not prepared for. People rarely have a roadmap for what traits a leader should have. According to Ron and Monica, critical traits for a leader are as follows:

  • Be modest: Humility is critical. Letting your team know every time you have a success makes the work seem all about you. Leadership is never about you. It's about your team.
  • Don't act like a genius: No one wants to work for a know-it-all. Letting those around you succeed and celebrating your success as a team will inspire your employees to work beyond their capabilities.
  • Ask and listen: Being a good listener is critical for any manager. Don't try to anticipate what others are going to say. Ask for input. Listen to not just what is said, but what wasn't.
  • Don't own all communication: Spend a day reviewing your meetings. Were you the one who talked the most? Flip that on its head. Often times your staff has better ideas then you do.
  • Share the wealth: Cheer on your staff. Again, your success is their success. Give credit where it is due, do so loudly.
  • Act on good ideas: Don't be slow to implement a good idea when you hear one. It will show your staff they can make a difference and that increases their engagement.
  • Show appreciation: Recognition is paramount to engaged employees. Not all employees are the same. Take time and understand what motivates your staff as individuals and make sure you are helping them achieve their long-term goals.

Finally, a strong leader will always take a little more of the blame and a little less credit. This helps your team feel supported by you. In time, they will support you back.