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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders

I Want to be a Leader, but…

Photo courtesy of Forbes Magazine

Photo courtesy of Forbes Magazine

Over my educational and professional career,  I have worked for and with organizations that include major corporations, federal and local governments, public utilities, three academic institutions, consulting firms, and my own small business. This has afforded me the opportunity to discuss the ups, downs and challenges of the work environment with many, many individuals including CEOs, C-level executives, managers, clients, co-workers, subordinates, peers in other organizations, and members of professional organizations.

The manager is a copy. The leader is an original.

It is important for me to acknowledge that I was trained and mentored by some outstanding individuals who had exceptional administrative and technical skills. I also have had the fortunate experience to see the best and worst in business operations and practices, and the people who come with each group. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my exposure to the worst of what the work place has to offer has served me extremely well. These organizations did not have a shortage of BAITERs, Haters, and social climbers who created pandemonium and chaos, and thrived under these conditions. [See previous post, BAITERs, Haters, and Social Climbers]

The manager asks how and when? The leader asks what and why?

While I am fortunate to know several handfuls of professionals who have or are in C-level positions or higher, I know many, many more who aspire to be a manager, vice president, or hold a C-level position within their organization. Further probing and more discussion eventually shook out that contravening conjunction, but! I want to be a leader, but

The manager maintains. The leader develops.

Every excuse that one can think of has and will be offered after but. There are women who believe that their gender is a barrier to the leadership ranks. I won’t hesitate to acknowledge that although we are in the second decade of the new millennium, gender discrimination still exists. However, it does not prevent one from being a leader in his or her organization. We know that based on information provided in a previous post, Is There a Leader in Your Leadership. Being a leader is not dependent on holding a position in your organization.

The manager focuses on systems and structures. The leader focuses on people.

Source: Mel McGowan

Source: Mel McGowan

The previous post also identified the difference between a manager, a leader and leadership. Great examples of the differences between  manager and leader are offered by Warren Bennis in his book: On Becoming a Leader, and they appear throughout this post in italics. Although Bennis’ book was published 20 years ago, these leadership concepts are still very true today! Bennis states that one of the primary roles of a leader is to inspire and motivate. If that is true, then you do not need to be in a position or have positional authority to inspire and motivate others.

The manager relies on control. The leader inspires trust.

Now back to those buts! Race and ethnicity have also been identified as barriers to leadership positions. Since I am a woman of color, I also have my knowledge and scar tissue on this one. I will be the first to admit that racism has yet to sink to the depth of the ocean’s floor like the mighty Titanic, and it is 2013. Yet racism does not prevent one from being a leader in most organizations.

The manager has a short-range view. The leader has a long-range perspective.

Source: Idea Champions

Source: Idea Champions

Further discussions with many who aspire to be managers or leaders usually expose some of the difficulties and challenges that they are facing. While the specific challenges are too numerous to include in this post, I do want to focus on two that are frequently cited by most people: fear and toxic people.

The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line. The leader’s eye is on the horizon.

Fear arises from a number of circumstances. It accompanies the unknown and the discomfort of not knowing what can or will happen. It also accompanies a lack of knowledge about the organization, policies and procedures, and good business practices. Often it comes with a feeling of not having a voice, and even more importantly for a greater number of persons, not knowing how to express your voice in organizational and business matters. As a result, the but is amplified.

The manager imitates. The leader originates.

Source: J Morgan Marketing

Source: J Morgan Marketing

In fact, it is so amplified that BAITERS and Haters sense it and gravitate towards those who they think they can scare or shake down. Social climbers usually don’t gravitate towards individuals who are stricken with fear. If you aren’t willing to step up and help your own personal situation, they really don’t see you doing much to promote their needs or causes.

Leaders challenge their fears. And no, they don’t challenge all of their fears at one time. An aspiring leader may initially tackle one issue at a time, until he/she gains confidence to address larger and tougher challenges. The leader begins to apply her knowledge and skills more broadly along with life-lessons in tackling them.

The manager accepts the status quo. The leader challenges it.

Source: The Guardian, UK

Source: The Guardian, UK

Our discussion of but would be incomplete without including toxic people! Toxic people often go hand-in-hand with what many people fear in the work place. Some may call them bullies, control freaks, difficult employees, etc. They are looking to make someone the butt of their jokes and antics. Most workers fear toxic people, and leaders don’t particularly care for them either. However, leaders recognize that they come with the territory. They have been around since people have been walking the earth, and they look for traits and patterns to help them deal with the scum bags. If appropriate, leaders may attempt to establish a relationship with them, especially when it is necessary to do business with these individuals.

The manager is the classic good soldier. The leader is his or her own person.

Challenged&DefeatedToxic people are very predictable, and leaders are very much aware of this. They observe them to identify their operating behavior and patterns, and appropriately adjust their response(s) to them. Here’s another secret: most toxic people know who they can and cannot scare or manipulate. If they know that you will stand up to them and call them on the carpet, they are less likely to choose you as a moving target. You do have those extreme warriors who count everyone as fair game, however, these folks usually flame-out after committing career suicide or some major infraction that leads to termination of employment.

In closing, there will always be buts. Your role as a leader is to address and eliminate the buts that come up in your life and those that arise in the people you are entrusted to lead, inspire, and motivate. Of all of the manager/leader comparisons provided by Bennis, I like this one: The manager accepts the status quo. The leader challenges it. How often do you hear, “but that’s the way things are done around here,” or “but we’ve already tried that.”

The manager administers. The leader innovates.

Leaders do not fit the mold. They break it, or make new molds. Are you leading? or are you managing? Does your walk match your talk?


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


One thought on “I Want to be a Leader, but…

  1. thanks for share


    Posted by moncler | June 4, 2013, 6:28 pm

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