I recently came across a book entitled You Don’t Need A Title To Be A Good Leader, by Mark Sanborn, on the suggested free reads on my Kindle. The title caught my eye as it is something that I hold to be universally true – you don’t need a title to be a leader. In my career, from entry-level to management, I have come to believe that:
- Not all managers (or people with lofty titles) make good leaders, and
- Not all leaders make good managers.
Both roles are equally important and necessary for employers, but assuming they are the same can be disastrous for employees. There are thousands of books that can tell you what makes a good leader. I won’t try to summarize them here. Instead, I want to share some of my own experiences, good and bad, to highlight how a difference in leadership skills can impact employees and organizations.
The Bad Experience
I clearly remember the first time I understood the difference between a good leader and a bad one. I was a 16-year-old working for a national grocery store chain in the bakery department. Like most jobs in the grocery industry, I had to clean up when I worked the closing shift. One night, I received a last-minute order for a cake needed for a wedding the next day. To complete the requested decorations, I had to stay late to get the cleaning done. I felt I had performed my duties well by pleasing the customer and finishing my cleaning tasks.
Imagine my surprise when my manager told me that I should have clocked out at the scheduled time and completed the job off the clock. I knew this wasn’t right! I knew it was against company policy and the law. I took my concerns to the store director, who told me that I needed to discuss this with my manager – the one who wanted me to work off-the-clock. I instinctively knew that neither of these managers was a leader. I started looking for another job right away because I knew they had nothing to teach me.
The Good Example
Months later, I found a job with another store. Luckily I was paired with a senior employee named Cheryl. She held no management title but was a respected leader in the store. The store director held her in high regard. Department managers all consulted her on various things, especially matters involving people. Even as a teenager, all my instincts told me to pay attention to this person. I understood that she had knowledge and skills to share.
Over the years, I worked my way into a management position but, I was a woman in a male-led industry. I understood that I had to make a choice: depend on my title for respect or become a good leader and earn it. I didn’t want a title as much as I wanted to be that person who inspired others. I wanted to be the one who gave others the confidence and opportunities to shine.
What Makes the Difference?
Leadership qualities don’t suddenly appear when someone moves into a management position. Many people have them without ever acquiring a title. Fortunately, regardless of status, these skills can always be practiced and developed. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, which offers innovative solutions for growth, there are many competencies that solid leaders tend to have regularly. These skills, when put together, make a good leader into a great one.
- Effective communication skills
In my experience, though, the traits that drew me to particular mentors and leaders were more profound, more personal traits.
This one is hard to quantify, but it encompasses other important traits such as accountability and resilience. I can respect a leader who takes ownership of issues and errors then uses them to learn — to be better.
This is where the rubber meets the road for many leaders. The ability to take the lead often comes from influencing others through behavior, thought, or action. The leader who can positively sell their vision to others, and get that buy-in, can affect the success of any project or campaign.
The ability to delegate comes from trusting in others and allowing them the freedom to try. If they fail, they will learn. If they succeed, they will grow more confident and use that confidence and positive energy to lead others.
The desired qualities of solid leaders are easiest to pinpoint when they are absent.
Looking back at that bad experience as a novice employee, I can see that many fundamental leadership qualities were missing from multiple people within the organization. Leadership requires a group effort. If numerous cogs in the machine are turning in undesirable directions, you get chaos and confusion. Eventually, you lose hard-working employees.
Whether someone is in a top job or on the first rung on the proverbial ladder, the need for leadership skills remains necessary to improve the organization’s overall climate. No harm occurs when we attempt to make ourselves better leaders in life and business.
Leadership is empowering others to lead.