This post begins a new category and series on leaders. Devoting a new category to leaders is the result of my personal and professional experiences, and those of family members, friends, and professional colleagues. It also reflects what appears to be the interest and growing need of readers and viewers of this blog.
A recent review of stats for A Bridge for Business and STEM shows that the maximum views to date for this blog are 1,292 on April 29, 2013. The primary driver for this number was the blog post, “BAITERs, Haters, and Social Climbers”. This post originally appeared on November 18, 2012, and has continued to set records for views and comments. However, I must give some credit to the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Life Class that aired on Sunday evening, April 29, 2013. Oprah’s guest for the evening was Dr. Phil McGraw. The topic of discussion was how to deal with toxic people.
Dr. Phil shared some tips and other info from his new book: Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World. He frequently referred to the acronym BAITERs (backstabbers, accusers, imposters, takers, exploiters, and reckless people) as folks that we probably want to avoid. To do so, one must be able to recognize their behavior to steer around them.
My reality, over so many years of talking and working with professionals from numerous sectors, is that most people are struggling with recognizing and managing toxic people, their careers, and life in general. I’ve seen and experienced a range of leadership organizations from woefully inadequate to world class, and have had significant experience as a leader in a number of organizations and situations. My experiences to date have provided me with knowledge, wisdom and discernment, and the ability to apply them broadly.
The remainder of this post focuses on understanding the difference between two simple and similar words: leader and leadership. Most persons assume that they are one and the same. While they can mean the same thing in some situations, often times they do not. Knowing the difference between these two words will help you avoid toxic people, and therefore, is one of the reasons I am emphasizing this in my opening post on leaders.
There are many definitions of leadership. Some of the contemporary dictionaries (Webster, Oxford, Wikipedia, etc.) define leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do so”. While there is nothing wrong with this definition, and it serves a broad base of situations and scenarios, it also very much describes management. Often when the word, leadership, is used, it is in reference to management in an organization or firm.
I especially like this definition of leadership from Don Clark:
Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.
The most important thing I want to say about leadership in this introductory post is that it is situational. Each situation is different. What you do in one situation will not always work in another. You must use your wisdom and judgment to decide the best course of action and the leadership style needed for each situation. Many persons in management and leadership struggle with this concept. This is why leadership can be difficult and challenging. There is no book or resource that will answer every leadership question that you have, nor the ones that have yet to be asked.
What is a leader? The simplest definition is someone who leads. The late management guru, Peter Drucker, said, “The task of the leader is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.” That does not sound like most managers I know.
“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” — Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady [Ref 2]
“You cannot be a leader and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow, too.” — Sam Rayburn, former Speaker of the House [Ref 2]
One more thing to note, “Although your position as a manager, supervisor, lead, etc. gives you the authority to accomplish certain tasks and objectives in the organization (called Assigned Leadership), this power does not make you a leader, it simply makes you the boss (Rowe, 2007). [Ref 1] Do not confuse the leader in your organization with the boss. A leader may not have a position in the organization!
In closing, one of the simplest analogies that I often quote to differentiate a leader from a manager is:
Managers do things right [we hope], and leaders do the right thing. [Ref 3]
- Performance, Learning, Leading and Knowledge, Topic: Leadership, http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/leader/leader.html
- Leadership quotes, http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2632-leadership-quotes.html
- “What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?”, The Wall Street Journal, http://guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/what-is-the-difference-between-management-and-leadership/