Published in The Lebanon Democrat in June 2009.
In 50 years of working, including 26 years of focusing on improvement in organizations and their people, one overwhelming truth has become self-evident to me: Truly successful organizations, regardless of type or size, have outstanding bosses.
Consequently, regardless of our position or the size of our organization, we must be as good a leader as we can be. This is a serious matter.
Most bosses learn how to lead and manage by the seat of their pants. Large businesses, incorporated and private, utilize consultants and trainers to increase the knowledge and the capability of their managers as leaders. Front line managers and small business owners usually cannot afford the money or time for the high priced spread in consulting and training.
Regardless of their source of knowledge on how to be the boss, a majority of bosses get wrapped around the axle about “Leadership” being good and “Management” being bad.” The two words are often intermixed and confusing usage promotes misunderstanding. Even though many executives have “manager” in their titles, managing can be considered uncomplimentary.
The tendency is to neglect, if not disparage management while extolling leadership as the inspirational path to success. This is a perilous course.
The first step to improving performance as a “leader” is to recognize management as an integral part of the best leaders’ makeup, and necessary to getting the job done. Effective leaders understand management principles and incorporate them in their leadership or have someone perform the functions and advise them.
The most significant difference between the two terms is that leadership implies “followership,” which is not necessarily so for management. Still, management remains necessary for an organization to succeed. In fact, a successful integration of leadership and management synergistically increases the effectiveness of the entire effort.
Successful bosses don’t spend time arguing about the difference. They simply want to get the job done most effectively. To put brackets around leadership and management is limiting the tools available in the toolbox, which means the right tools will not necessarily be there when needed.
If we can dismiss the concern between leadership and management, it remains difficult to work on either when faced with the grind of running any operation and especially with demands from customers, the business environment, employees, and many sources of regulations.
Here are a few simple rules to assist in improving leadership skills:
- Be competent in the business area.
- Be ultimately responsible for the business.
- Constantly look at the big picture and assess where the organization is going and how well it is doing in getting there.
- Have as many leadership and management tools as possible in the toolbox and be able to use the particular tool when it will be most effective.
- Apply the right amount of direction and support for the individual employee based on his or her maturity for the task at hand.
- Demonstrate focus on the business, the welfare of the employees, and the satisfaction of customers.
- Recognize the boss or owner is the public face of the organization and work the public image.
- Always demonstrate integrity, honesty, and professionalism. The boss can remain hidden behind doors, but his or her employees and customers will still know what’s in the boss’ heart and mind.
- Recognize the similarities and the differences in a situation with other past situations. Lessons learned from good and bad experience should be applied.
- Continually assess how the organization works together and aggressively pursue improved team work.
In re-reading the above guidelines, I recognize they appear self evident. Yet, my experience indicates failures in leadership nearly always are caused by failure to observe one or more of these guidelines. These guidelines will be discussed more thoroughly in future columns.
It is not easy to be an effective leader. Arleigh Burke addressed the difficulty and put leadership in perspective for me. We used a quote of Admiral Burke as the watchword for a seminar on excellence conducted for senior Navy leaders in the late 1980’s. I find it still applicable and helpful in my role as a business owner. I hope it will help you as well.
“Leadership is a difficult but not impossible quality to acquire. Any individual who really wants to be a leader can be one. It takes hard work. It takes knowledge. It takes enthusiasm. But it can be done.”