Leader is a Label

“Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” -Warren Bennis, 1985
Written by Mitchell Boling on Apr 08, 2019
Leader is a Label

“As your leader, I am going to…” I heard this and nearly spat out my coffee. I was attending a staff meeting when the manager made this statement. Each of us at the meeting table just sat there looking at him as he spoke, not really believing the statement he had just made.  Why would he call himself the leader? After all, he had never exhibited the traits of a leader for the entire time I had worked for him. He was strictly business, a no-nonsense manager with the customer seemingly being in the forefront of his mind at all times.

The reason why he called himself a leader was because that was how our company referred to managers. In all of the correspondence I had seen, the company always referred to management as “leadership,” as if the two were interchangeable. It was almost as if the company had no idea of the differences between the two, sort of like it was using leadership as a buzz word. I felt this because in fact, there was very little leadership training available within the company. People would complete a few computer-based training sessions once they became managers, maybe a half day seminar, but that was about it. So how could it refer to managers as leaders if the training was minimal?

Numerous sources found on the Internet will compare and contrast the differences between management and leadership. My favorite is a statement from leadership guru Warren Bennis. He said, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.” Managers must be able to do things right, from performing daily tasks on spreadsheets and documents, to making critical decisions after studying company metrics.  Leaders must be able to do the right thing, like pointing the group toward a shared vision, challenging the status quo, and looking into their heart for guidance. The two are different, but they should be coupled together, because they do complement one another.

In order to become a leader, one has to understand and then practice various traits of a leader. I’ll list a few here, but know that this list is not all inclusive because of the large number of traits that make up a leader’s mindset. Leaders do not need to possess all traits, but should strive to master a few of them.   These are:

Confidence

Communication

Empathy

Compassion

Energy

Charisma

One has to become very familiar with most, if not all of these traits in order to be considered a leader. We cannot call ourselves a leader; rather, we must practice these traits and behaviors in our everyday work. Doing so will demonstrate to our followers that we are indeed, the leader.

In my position where I work, I am the “Lead,” which is a title and not a label. My work entails ensuring tasks get accomplished in a timely manner, planning maintenance activities on the devices, and ensuring the customer is satisfied with our product. This sounds a lot like management of tasks and resources, which it is, but as the so called “Lead,” I also have other responsibilities. These responsibilities are not directed to me, rather they are just things that I do because I feel they are important for the health of our organization. I do things that revolve around my coworkers, personally. I’ll go around the facility and check on them and ensure they have everything they need to do the job; I’ll pitch in and help them complete a task, and I’ll nominate deserving individuals for awards. These types of behaviors are found in the leadership realm, so I try to blend them with the managerial tasks that I have to accomplish. In the end, people consider me their leader, regardless of my duty title.

While I have the title of “Lead,” my followers have placed a label on me, “Leader.” Going back to the manager who announced his status as leader, we should be careful of saying things like that. Instead of verbalizing that we are the leader, we should practice the traits and behaviors that make a good leader, and then let our followers place that label on us.  They call us “Leader,” we cannot call ourselves that. We can feel it; we just should not proclaim it.