I talk a lot about the value of strong leadership, and I credit the success of our companies to the leaders we have in place. But what exactly does it mean to be a leader?
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a leader as, “One who leads; a guide; a captain; a head of party.” Beyond the official definition, many people simply associate leadership with job title, position, management, or tenure. However, the position you hold is not an indication you are a good leader.
Leadership, more than anything else, is about the way we think. It involves constantly disciplining our thoughts. It is about practicing personal accountability and choosing to make a positive contribution, no matter your role, title, or level. A receptionist, a laborer, an operator, a truck driver, and a bricklayer can all be leaders. If you have ever questioned whether you are a leader, a clear indicator is that your co-workers seek out your advice on work or personal matters. The bottom line is, if we think and act like leaders, we are leaders.
Leading by Example
The best leaders lead by example. But it is not just great leaders who are leading by example. We are all leaders in some capacity. It is just that from the top down of your leadership team, people are watching you under a microscope. They are noticing everything you do – whether it is what you would want them to emulate or not. Because others are influenced by your behavior, for better or worse, it begs an important question: Are you proud of the example you are setting?
It is also essential to examine your intentions when you lead by example. If your intent is to create a “clone army” of yourself, you are grossly misguided. Even with perfect effort (which does not truly exist), the results will never turn out the way you hope.
What should leading by example look like? Your actions influence others to behave and respond in ways that are deemed valuable and appropriate for your desired organizational outcomes. In other words, while you need to focus on your behaviors, it should not be for ego purposes, but for the people and the organization’s benefit.
You Get What You Give
Great leaders accept more than their share of the blame for poor results and take less than their share of the credit for good results.
The golden rule in leadership: You cannot demand loyalty and respect; you must earn it. How you treat your team reflects your leadership style, or lack thereof. As a leader, you shoulder the responsibility of being a mentor and role model who demonstrates your values, as well as those of the company, through your actions. You are constantly building relationships within your organization by coaching, providing guidance, and creating cohesive teams.
Adopting Leadership Behaviors
Leaders sometimes create lists of attributes of their “dream team.” They include things like: engaged and empowered, flexible and open to change, focused, good attitude, and good work ethic. While this is a good list, it is comprised of vague language that is difficult to turn into behaviors that others can emulate.
If the goal is to lead by example in relation to your “dream team” list, it is important to determine what behaviors create those outcomes and communicate them in an open manner. If you want engagement and empowerment, consider the following leadership behaviors:
- Keeping your cool regardless of how tough things get.
- Make decisions based on the highest good for the people, business, and objectives.
- Be proactive by asking the team what you can do to help or improve a situation.
- Be accountable by accepting responsibility for poor results.
- Try things in service of the desired goal.
- If you make a mistake, own it and learn from it.
Manager vs. Leader
New team members often ask me whether being a manager automatically makes someone a leader. While I would love to always respond with a resounding yes, that is just not always the case. However, corporate-wide we are working to align manager and leader.
- What is the difference between a manager and a leader?
- Managers manage processes and procedures. Leaders inspire and motivate others to accomplish goals.
- Managers develop policies and procedures. Leaders develop vision and strategy.
- Managers direct and control. Leaders motivate and inspire. Stated another way, managers get people to do what needs to be done.
- Leaders get people to want to do what needs to be done. (Read that again if you need to; the distinction is subtle.)
- Managers explain “what we have to do.” Leaders explain “where we are going.”
- Managers give directions. Leaders ask questions.
- Managers are concerned with the here and now. Leaders are concerned with the long-term view.
- Managers are bottom-line oriented. Leaders are big-picture oriented.
- Managers are concerned with projects. Leaders are concerned with people.
- Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.
You should want your entire team to be effective on both fronts. There was a time when the roles could be separated. When I started my first business nearly 40 years ago, I just gave orders and the manager’s job was to follow them, organize the work, assign the right people to the necessary tasks, coordinate the results, and ensure the job got done as ordered. The focus was solely on productivity.
But in today’s economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, and where workers are no longer consistent cogs in an industrial machine, management and leadership are not easily separated. People look to their managers, not just to assign them a task, but to define for them a purpose. And managers must organize workers, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results.
A Company of Leaders
Being a leader is primarily an internal process of self-reflection, learning to think and then behave differently. It is about seeing yourself as a leader, and then behaving in ways that make others see you as a leader, too. The goal should be to empower every member of the team to recognize themselves as a leader. Help them understand how their leadership strengthens the organization. Regardless of the title they hold, great leaders build stronger and better companies through their actions.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, 3 PLS Labor Services, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection, and Safety Company, and EZG Manufacturing.
To view the products and equipment his companies created to make job sites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email email@example.com, or call 740-749-3512.