Leadership is the sun coming up on the horizon sprinkling the world with beauty and energy. Management is the rainy, grey day that gives you the feeling of hopelessness.
Working in corporate America can be very frustrating. The frustration doesn’t come from the work that has to be done or the myriad of rules that need to be followed through. The frustration comes from the lack of leadership that is shown throughout. And it’s not just a plague that seems to afflict the corporation that employs me. The lack of leadership is profound throughout our new system. I wrote about this a couple months ago in one of my most widely read Medium articles (https://medium.com/@mikehornerultra/be-the-boss-you-want-to-have-9871541a60ef)
Why We Are Plagued with Bad Managers
I believe the reasons are three-fold.
1) Promotions are awarded to people who follow the system most carefully. We used to reward boldness and creativity and leadership. Now corporations reward those that are following the edicts handed down by top management.
2) We’ve forgotten what leadership is. Leadership is not a title and it is not something that is handed out once you finish your college education. Leadership is something developed by people who see life quite differently than people who assume the title of manager.
3) And finally, titles are carelessly tossed about and donned by people who most likely do not fit the mantle that has been thrust upon them. Then these people who are ill-equipped to wear the title they have been given are tossed into the deep end of the pool and told to swim without so much as the first swimming lesson. Oh sure, every corporation has the library of videos to watch on your “down time” so you can learn management techniques and styles but nobody is teaching leadership anymore.
Leadership by Example
When I was in the military, I received my first taste of the difference between leadership and management. I had just been promoted to E4 and I was no longer known as a seaman but now I was a proud Petty Officer. Having only been in the military for about eighteen months at the time I was one of those people who advanced rather quickly. Don’t ask me why because I pretty much knew I was nothing but a knucklehead with a good grasp of the numbers. I was the bookkeeper in charge of our operational ledgers. Thus, I was in charge of the operations budget and the consumables budget for our fine Navy vessel. My Senior Chief (E8) at the time of my promotion took me aside and he told me that I was going to be assuming the Leading Petty Officer of our division. Keep in mind that in our division there were two E6 Petty Officers, one E5 Petty Officer and two E4 Petty Officers with more time in rank than me.
At this point, I felt totally overwhelmed and was trying to figure out how I was going to exert any kind of authority over five people who outranked me much less gain the respect of the other five people in our division.
My Senior Chief solved this problem for me. He told me that this did not make me the boss and that now everybody had to hop to it and do whatever I told them to do. No, he said my responsibility was to set the pace and the attitude for those who would be looking to me for leadership. My main responsibility was to get to know the people in my division and figure out how best to utilize their gifts and talents, figure out what they were doing well and form their work responsibilities to fit their gifts. Sure, I would be held accountable for achieving our division’s overall goals and operational responsibilities but how we got there was entirely up to me.
What I did was observe for the first month after it was announced that I would be the Leading Petty Officer. I changed nothing but I asked a lot of questions, especially of the people who outranked me. I asked them what they enjoyed doing, what areas they felt strong in and what I could to do help them advance in their careers. The two E6 Petty Officers were both closing in on twenty years and would be able to retire soon. Neither one of them felt they had any chance of advancing further but they were hoping to close their time on the ship out well and move into a shore duty position so the transition to civilian, retired life would be easier. They both resented the fact that I had been made Leading Petty Officer over them but both in that first month announced to the whole division that I had their backing and that it would be good if everybody else started listening to me. The one E5 Petty Officer was due to transfer to shore duty in a couple of months but wanted to know if he could get some advanced training before he transferred to his shore duty position. In exchange, he offered to oversee all of our stock room locations and complete some much-needed maintenance and asked if he could have one of the new persons who had just reported to the ship so he could train and mentor him to take over the stockroom location maintenance.
Within that first year, our division for the first time in twenty years received the coveted Blue E, which is awarded to supply divisions that excel in all areas of supply management.
And here is the key. I didn’t take responsibility. When we were rewarded with this honor I didn’t step forward to accept the award, I sent the people forward who outranked me to receive the award, take the pictures with the captain and supply officer and basically sat back with a huge smile on my face as I watched the entire division relish in an award that our ship had never been awarded in its long thirty year history of being at sea.
Three Keys to Becoming a Leader
My working career has pretty much been the same thing throughout and I have appreciated each one of the challenges I have been given. I don’t receive a lot of recognition, especially in today’s corporate world where rule following and ass kissing are rewarded but I have seen many people I have been privileged to lead go on and do much greater things than I ever will.
Here are the three keys I believe will make the difference between being a leader who inspires others and pulls them to greatness and a manager with a title who may even get better titles than the leader.
1. Leaders do the things in the shadows that managers strive to get recognition for. Leaders simply lead and people who surround them do great things not because of some slogan or chant or because the person has a higher title than them. If you are a true leader and you are setting the pace and direction for people and then you are out doing what you do best while encouraging them to do what they do best, amazing things will happen.
2. Leaders don’t worry about meeting key objectives set by upper management. Leaders assess what their teams do best and pursue those things with passion and energy. Oftentimes, at the end of the day, these teams excel and end up hitting the key objectives set by upper management and often even cruise by these objectives because the objective isn’t the goal. The goal for a leader is to draw the best out of your people each and every single day and find ways to reward their strong efforts with word and deed on a regular basis.
3. Leaders fight for their people and don’t have what I call “I” goals. An “I” goal is easy to identify. Often a person in a management position with preface their statements with “I decided I would challenge you to….” or my all time favorite uttered by a person who once worked for me that I had encouraged upper management to promote to this position above me and then warned that they would have to decide whether they wanted to be a manager or a leader. This person announced loudly to me one day, “I have goals and I don’t give a rip what you have to change to make sure that I reach my goals!” If you’re a leader, you will have personal goals. The difference is that your personal goals will be oriented around your team and around team goals. Leaders realize that if the team prospers, so does the leader. Managers are only concerned about what they are going to get out of something.
Leadership is a funny thing. If utilized properly everybody around finds fulfillment in their day to day drag. If utilized improperly, what you will find is high turnover and low job satisfaction. This is why I urge everybody who is accepting a position or title that puts you in a management position. Choose carefully whether you will travel the road to being a manager or a leader.
The world is looking for leaders because we all have discovered the challenge with managers.