Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility. – Peter Drucker
People often confuse titles and roles. I’m not talking about formal titles like “Manager of Communications” or “Plant Manager.” If your title contains the word “manager” in it, you may very well be an outstanding leader. I’m talking about the difference in mindset between someone who simply manages, versus someone who leads.
A manager is someone who tries to keep the lid on the box through control and organizational rules. A leader is somebody who tears the top off of the box believing this way everything will go faster and be better. A leader is comfortable with relinquishing control. Leadership is about trusting your team.
Think of the old metaphor of a wagon train heading west. The wagon leader was in the front, blazing the trail for the rest of the group who followed behind. It’s easy to be at the front and think you are leading well when you really can’t see if anybody is in trouble behind you.
Today’s leaders have to lead from the rear. They have to empower their team by giving others the knowledge to lead the pack by telling them what to look out for. You give them a goal and trust them keep their compass pointed west as they execute. Encourage them to keep going forward. Let them know they need to find a place to cross the river. Let them know they might have to go north sometimes to go further west. Leaders empower others with the vision and then fall behind to make sure the rest of the people are making it.
Those who manage and do not lead tend to bring everyone to the average. Leaders help others excel by maximizing capacity, talents, strengths and happiness. Happiness is a big key here. We have a few long-distance runners on our team who talk about how exciting it is and the running “highs” they get from finishing marathons. Personally, I can’t think of a more terrible experience. If my job were running marathons, I would be miserable every day; but let’s imagine what that would be like. In that situation, a manager—knowing that everyone on the team has a different capacity to run—might dictate that the whole team participate in the 10K race, thinking it was a good compromise for everyone. However, that would hold back our terrific distance runners, and would also make team members like me pretty unhappy. A real leader would encourage me to walk the 5K while cheering on another team member as she crosses the finish line for the marathon.
Managing versus leading is the difference between average and great. I’ve never met a person in my life who didn’t believe, deep down in their soul, had the capacity to be great at something. I’ve met people who have been beaten down by life and may not believe in themselves, but every person was born with that spark to be great. Amazing leaders are the kind of people who can take that spark and turn it into a roaring fire.
Question: Are you leading or managing? How can you lead better today regardless of your position or formal title?