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LEADERSHIP: Indispensible and Misunderstood

Like you, I grew up learning from those nearest to me. As we approached adulthood, each of us developed a value system to steer our own special course through life. Experience and knowledge followed, and before long, circumstances placed us in a unique position from which others could benefit from our abilities.

So, what is this “unique position”? For most it is defined as management; and for a very few, it is known as leadership. Often, and mistakenly, managers and leaders are each thought to define the other: a good manager is necessarily an effective leader; a successful leader has mastered the art of management. Perhaps not so. To proceed, let’s start with the skill set you understand best: management.

During formal schooling, I studied management, and once my career path was established, employers enrolled me in courses to enhance my subject matter expertise and learn the skills necessary to effectively manage. Your path towards the assumption of the responsibilities and authority you own today are also a result of the formal and informal training you received and the valuable experience gained both on and off the job.

As you know so well, whether you are the owner of a company or running a project, the skills you earned that enable you to manage people and resources were difficult to achieve. You also know that each day is challenging, people are counting on you to make the right decisions, and the heavy responsibilities you carry remain with you long after you leave the office or plant and go home. Theoretically, the more you learn about your job, the better you are able to balance the varied nature of management. You must continually:

  • enhance your specific job-related and well honed skills through training, schooling and years of experience.
  • interact well with your employees, vendors, clients and peers and always treat them with respect.
  • handle the unexpected and perhaps be prepared to encounter and resolve crisis situations;.
  • master the difficult tasks of budgeting, cash management, scheduling and meeting deadlines.
  • learn to communicate with others over a wide variety of mediums and master the art of public speaking.

You certainly understand that the practice of management automatically infers that someone may have authority over you and you certainly have authority over others. Therefore, the type of general manager or plant supervisor you have become may certainly effect the working lives of those placed under your control. In any event, wearing this title means that your assigned and inherent responsibilities belong to you. If it doesn’t work, if the goods did not show up on time, if your key person was sick that day, if the job wasn’t completed on time—those problems all belong to you. You are expected to do whatever is necessary to complete your assignments on time and on budget … period! If you are up to the job, your people will appreciate your efforts and accomplishments and you should be proud to know that their jobs just became a little bit more secure because of you.

When times are bad, everything is magnified. Businesses terminate employees and enact severe measures to remain viable. Everyone may suffer and as the one in charge, you may carry out orders and perform unpleasant tasks. Even if your people are fond of you and want you to succeed, they are still at the job because they need that paycheck. You control their lives and it is that control which creates anxiety, uncertainty, envy, fear, and distrust. The camaraderie you thought was there becomes a façade because you may have overlooked the fact that the primary principle of strong effective management is control.

We have discussed some aspects of the management experience and it will serve as a comparison once we begin to identify and understand the complexities of leadership. We will begin by asking ourselves, “how can we be effective managers and not understand how to lead our people?” My answer is: “well, it happens all the time.” There is a good reason why the subject of leadership is usually not taught in school. For many years the best scholars erroneously believed that good leaders were born and could not be made. Likely, we will reach a different conclusion.

For today, I will leave you with a quotation from one of America’s great leaders, Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where

the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly;
who errs and comes short again and again;
who knows great enthusiasms,
the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly
so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know

neither victory or defeat.”

 

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