One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear or read about "managing people." To some people, the difference between leadership and management is just semantics, but it's more than that to me. Processes are managed; people should be led.
Management is about making sure that procedures and tasks (processes) are properly taken care of and done on time--things such as expense reports, financial tracking, time management, administrative paperwork, business processes specific to your industry, etc. Leadership is about creating a vision and developing people.
I've had peers who have tried to manage people rather than lead them. It wasn't pretty. Their staff had no respect for them. People need to know that you're committed to them and their development. Once a leader makes that commitment, she has to make sure to follow-up on it, ALWAYS, even when she doesn't feel like it. Just as with emails and voice mails, not following up will cause a leader to lose all credibility with her direct reports. It's the kiss of death.
Good leaders genuinely care about the welfare of their employees. Great leaders learn what it is that each employee wants and needs, what motivates them, what their goals are, and help them reach their potential. Yes, I do think that there are some people who are natural born leaders, but that doesn't mean it's hopeless for those of us who weren't born with that ability. Being a good leader can definitely be taught. A person can learn what makes a good leader and practice those behaviors.
There are certain traits that you will almost always hear when someone describes a good leader. Emulate those. Learn about them. Develop your own leadership philosophy and practice it. Two of my favorite sources that I think best describe a good leader and how to become one are The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell and Disney's Great Leader Strategies, which were developed by Lee Cockerell (www.leecockerell.com). Lee recorded CD's of one of his Great Leader Strategies presentations in 1997. The presentation is ten years old and I still listen to it at least once a month. I always learn something from listening to it again.
Some of the things that I thing make good leaders, traits that I look for in leaders I work for are:
- They always make time for me when I need to speak with them or need their assistance.
- They learn about me as an individual, what my career goals are, and are committed to helping me reach those goals.
- They make sure that I am in an environment where I am constantly learning new things. They give me assignments to help me grow professionally and even take a role in directly teaching me new things.
- They give me the freedom to try new things and new ways of doing old things.
- They give me feedback and direction rather than criticism. (Direction tells people what to do. Criticism tells people what NOT to do.)
_ They let me manage my area and lead my direct reports without micromanaging.
Leadership isn't easy and it certainly isn't something that can only be done once in a while, but the rewards are well worth the effort.