We’re busy managing
A few years ago I was sent on a course to teach managers how to be leaders.
The content focussed on numerous ways of categorising staff, such as according to their motivation type or communication style. Although learning these techniques was interesting, and useful to varying degrees, I feel most of us came away disappointed. Did all the effort and investment transform us into great leaders? Frankly, the answer was no.
It wasn’t long ago that the word leader was confined to the highest echelons of political parties or movements. Leadership as a concept, and an ideal, has grown significantly in the past few decades. Yet our perception of who and what makes a great leader has changed little. A quick straw poll amongst your colleagues on ‘who is a great leader’ might get you answers like Ghandi, Lincoln, Churchill or Martin Luther King. Lofty ambitions for the mere mortal manager to live up to.
Promoting leadership as a separate and higher entity merely perpetuates the myth that it’s something special and unobtainable that only the chosen few possess. From the practical perspective of the manager, leadership can appear more like a personality cult. A case of style over substance. No wonder we’re a bit confused when a course purporting to transform us into leaders doesn’t bestow us with great charisma or the ability to spout rallying speeches like the great leaders we’re supposed to be emulating.
If we want our managers to display leadership skills we need to get realistic. Managers want quick and ready solutions that help them in their daily work. For examples of great leaders, managers need to look closer to home, by translating leadership traits and skills to their context. Take for instance two big buzz words associated with leadership – inspiration and followers. These might be straightforward for an entrepreneur with big ideas, someone who staff choose to work with because of their vision and philosophy. This might not seem relevant to the “ordinary” manager, but what are motivation and engagement if not the management equivalents?
As for leadership in it’s purest form, that’s what we’ll be doing when we’re not busy managing.