I was asked recently what I thought leadership was. I began to say blah, blah, blah and the ability to blah, blah, blah. I went on about my day. Then I thought, “do I really know what leadership is? Am I really a leader?” I think I am. Yeah, I am because I’ve done blah, blah, blah and I’ve managed blah amounts of people. Whoa, time to backup and look at what I think leadership is and more importantly, what is the perception that others have for leadership.

Leadership is not defined by variables in an equation. It is the answer.

Leadership is not defined by variables in an equation. It is the answer. Stop reading and actually think about that. All the time when we ask questions about people’s leadership skills we spout off a bunch of things they have done or traits that they posses. Those variables have great impact on being able to separate leadership from management skills but they are not the defining factor. You can have all the necessary skills to manage something, or someone but that doesn’t equate to being a leader. So what makes someone a leader and not just a manager? Can they be both? Better yet, shouldn’t they be both? Good questions. Let’s think about what makes a leader and we will come back to that.

Become Great, Leadership

Nature vs Nurture
In my opinion, leadership is a quality not a behavior, so by definition it can’t be learned. You can learn to manage effectively and earn respect but leadership is part of who you are. If nurtured correctly, it becomes part of your expressed personality. Many people will have different opinions on this and valid arguments to saying it can be taught but if you can take 2 people, taught the same way and the same thing and 1 becomes a good leader, I lean in the direction of leadership being a quality.

Trust / Transparency
Being successful takes cooperation. Leaders promote trust and transparency in an organization. I’ve been thankful that in my career, I have had managers who have taught me that without transparency, there is no accountability. You can’t achieve success without trusting in every member of your team. For a team to be successful, they need to have faith in the decisions being made at the leadership level, either mid-level or higher up. Leaders embrace failure and constructive feedback and are not defensive. People trust more if they know you care more about understanding and fixing an issue than explaining why it didn’t work.

Focusing a group on a goal
Pulling a team together to reach a goal is essential to strong leadership. Understanding the diversity of your team, knowing each person or subgroups of people and their abilities, and being able to set or understand the long term vision of the goal is an everyday part of leadership. I work with tons of really smart people and surrounding yourself with intelligent people is a great way to increase your knowledge and build a team of the right people for a task. Allow for a divergence of ideas but have the ability to redirect the conversation back to the primary goal.

Make people around them better

Contrary to popular belief, “failure is an option.”

Stupid simple. Leaders contribute to the growth and maturity of everyone around them. They prevent large scale mistakes but allow the next in line to fail fast and learn. Contrary to popular belief, “failure is an option.” A certain amount of acceptable failure actually helps to prepare employees to handle issues. Leaders mitigate the risk with experience.

Every action of a leader is validated through the people he/she leads. Success is achieved when positive actions > negative actions.

So what makes someone a leader and not just a manager?
A manager is someone who takes responsibility for a person, group or project and attempts to make it successful. A leader defines the success of a person, group or project, motivates and mentors the people around them in order to make them grow in their careers. Leaders are vocal, promote innovation and efficiency, unify diverse groups within an organization in order to reach a common goal.