Obsessed with Leadership

Don’t call me a manager! I’m a leader! That is a typical statement throughout many different organizations. From the NFL quarterback to the Officer in the Military, the last thing people want to be called is a good manager. But being a manager is not a bad thing. It is one of the most important roles in an organization. Management is the foundation of success for an organization, and without managers, organizations fail. Additionally, a great manager is frequently the best at growing into a great leader! Their management skills will give them credibility and trust in the organization, which are key to following a leader.
So why are we obsessed with leadership? Can we afford to ignore managerial skills to live in the illusion that we are developing leaders? Because management is the foundation of the organization, the appropriate approach to this problem is to teach management skills first and let those with natural leadership skills or tendencies identify themselves for further development. Pick the ones you want to groom to be leaders and give them leadership training on top of their management skills.
This article is not designed to discount leaders. Leaders are critical; leadership is the key to moving an organization forward, without leaders organizations stagnate and fail. The point of this article is to identify (and discredit) the growing narrative that leadership is the most important aspect of life in our large organizations. We certainly need leaders, but too often when it comes time to manage the pieces of the organization we are given authority over, we only have leadership theory to draw upon in practice. This leaves people vastly unprepared for even the most basic management positions. New managers struggle until they have suffered through years of trial and error until they figure out what works. And even when they find what works it is still far from superior management skills.
The solution is to understand the difference between management and leadership. Start talking about the importance of management skills. Have professional development seminars about increasing management skills. An easy one to start with is time management. Google that subject, learn about it, and then spread the message. Your organization will be much better off if we focus on how to be better managers and how to take care of your people, rather than insisting everyone can and should be a leader. We don’t need to teach everyone to be a leader. Not everyone is capable, nor do they desire it.
One last item to note: your position or rank does not make you a leader it simply makes you responsible. A leader uses deliberate actions to effect change or innovation and moves the organization towards its vision. A good leader is one who does this is a positive way, and towards a positive goal, a bad leader is one who does it in a negative way towards a negative goal. You may be ineffective as a leader, but you can still be a great manager, and that is treasured in every organization.

It’s Not Just Business

How many times have we heard the term, “It’s nothing personal, just business.”? It is in music, movies, and ingrained into our general culture. The problem is business is personal. We invest in them with money, sweat, tears, and time. Many personal sacrifices go into our businesses or our work. So how can it not be personal and what do you do about it? The answer is simple: Grow a thick skin and take things personally. ​

This most certainly does not happen overnight, it is not easy, but it is crucial. People’s criticism, although sometimes hurtful, is feedback and feedback is essential to business regardless of what the business is. Even outside of business it is vital.  An individuals performance will rarely improve without feedback. 69% of employees state if they are given feedback they will work harder and are better because of it. Most of this is because they know they are being observed and that people care about them and the work they are doing.

If you are the author of a blog, you will be criticized (trust me on this one). If you own and run an ice cream shop, you will be criticized (probably less than the blog).  If you invent a time-machine, you will be criticized. There will always be someone who is critical of you and your work. The point is to accept that you will be criticized and keep doing your thing. Do not let it deter you from your cause. There is no doubt this is much easier said than done and I struggle with this myself. But if you identify it as something worthwhile, and are deliberate about getting better at it, then it can be done.

I used to believe a good feedback mechanism was 360-degree feedback.  I still think it is a great idea, but a much too “the world is full of rainbows” idea.  People are very bad at taking feedback from superiors, let alone from subordinates or peers.  In order to implement a 360-degree feedback system in your organization, you would need to spend significant time working through the culture to get the leaders of the organization to accept the feedback.  Most likely, this approach would cause resentment from the subordinates because they would feel like their feedback is ignored.  Regardless of your feedback method, if you do it enough and force yourself to evaluate what people tell you, you will grow a thick skin with it you will be able to take feedback from random strangers or customers.


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Deliberate Leadership

Francis is a widely considered a good leader. His peers agree, and he is relatively successful at work. Every morning Francis goes to the gym, has a good workout, and gets to work early. He says hello to his people and sits down at his computer to check email and to see what the day has in store. He responds to a few late emails, adds additional tasks to his growing list, and starts to work from the top of the list.
Like many of us, Francis is not very deliberate in his approach to his daily work life, which means he is not able to practice deliberate leadership. He is almost entirely reactive and is only working to keep his head above water. Many of us are very familiar with this life. We have seen it before. Whether in our own lives or in the lives of our peers.
What do you do about it? You must change your frame of mind. From reactionary to deliberate. The difference is like being pulled by unknown forces in an unknown direction (reactionary) to purposefully deciding what direction to go in and taking action to support that decision. Once this frame of mind has been adjusted, you will stop feeling like you are in a boat without a paddle, but will feel like you have a new engine and can do what you want. You will feel empowered and in control.
One of the keys to this is to communicate. Communicate with your key team members. They are essential to determining the vision of your organization or section. Once you have developed a vision or mission, talk to your boss, so she knows your vision and direction. You must get the green-light from the leader of the organization because she is responsible for the overall performance of the organization and will want to ensure your vision is in line and supports the organization’s vision.
The best way to get started is to dedicate a certain amount of time to focus and work extra hard to clear your plate of all work and projects. You will want a clean slate to start. Once you have a relatively clean slate, you will be able to have the flexibility to work different things that are aligned with your new vision. Create goals and a strategy to be able to reach your new vision. The goals and strategy are a must to get the team on the same page. Finally, communicate with everyone as much as possible. Your people should be very familiar with the strategy, vision, and goals. Take every opportunity to reinforce your message.
Being deliberate means taking control of the organization or whatever piece you can control and not letting it determine everything you do. You must take control and deliberately develop your employees. You must deliberately drive the culture of the organization. Take small, deliberate steps. Your people will follow if it is important and they know “why” you are doing it. The “why” of your efforts must be a good reason.