It is essential to understand the difference between leadership and management. Managers are those in your organisation tasked with carrying out a specific job function in order to meet agreed goals. They are usually assigned to one of the four classic functions of management: planning, organising, managing and controlling. The role will be specified in a job description, because they will follow a path that is fairly clearly laid out. They are tasked with organisational goals and objectives, their pay and bonus might depend on their success (and the success of their subordinates) in meeting those goals and they are differentiated from the shop floor usually by the authority to, for example, “hire and fire”, as well as discipline or reward behaviour by their team.
Leadership, however, is quite different. Leaders are very often not managers and stand apart from the day-to-day business of being goal-focused. They are there to provide the vision of the organisation when there is no clearly defined path. They set the path itself. A good definition is this:
Leaders drive the organisation in the right direction of travel. They do so by building a vision, inspiring the organisation to support that vision and being dynamic and motivating as they do so.
Managers do not necessarily have those leadership skills, but it would be helpful for them to do so, both for their own career paths and for the welfare of their teams; in fact, a common complaint about poor managers is that they lack leadership skills or the ability to inspire.
So what are the leadership skills that will elevate those with management experience into true leaders? What skills development strategies should you be encouraging to find your organisation’s leaders of tomorrow?
There are five key skills that most business commentators agree form the core suite of skills required of leaders:
Vision: Leaders must show that they can grasp and communicate a dynamic road map for your organisation’s direction of travel. They need to build a convincing narrative that shows everyone where the organisation is heading. And they need to allow managers to define metrics as to the deliverables for achieving that vision – what success looks like – in broad-brush strokes as opposed to micro-management.
Communication: This is something that all companies pay lip service to, but it cannot be stated often enough. True leaders must be able to communicate clearly, cogently and persuasively. That means both with employees and with external stakeholders. And it is a two-way process – active listening is an important attribute for leaders. This can be one of the challenges for managers when making a step up to a leader’s role so it is potentially an area that brings a training need.
Motivation: The late George HW Bush’s quote about “the vision thing” came back to haunt him, and his apparent lack of it was cited as a factor in his failure to win a second Presidential term, losing to Bill Clinton in 1992. But it is as the very core of what makes a great leader as opposed to a merely competent one. If you demonstrate the ability to motivate, it will make implementing changes to achieve the vision easier as the team will understand why they are being asked to adapt.
Delegation: One of the challenges for a manager stepping up to be a leader is learning to let go of tasks that they used to have as part of their job description. You must respect and trust your team to take responsibility as you step away to focus on higher aims.
Integrity: True leaders need to show integrity and honesty. Leaders should embody and display your organisation’s values. If your leaders behave honestly and ethically, those values will permeate throughout the organisation.
Taking responsibility: Leaders need to show that “the buck stops here”. As well as inspiring and motivating, leaders need to manage inevitable conflict resolution and problem solving. An honest and successful leader will inspire others to follow suit and be seen as fair-minded. This will help them to develop a positive – and winning – culture within your organisation.
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