This week we’re considering leadership skills and whether we need to wait for someone else to give us a leadership title.
A conversation in the TPW Facebook community got me thinking about what it takes to lead effectively. I’m not an expert on leadership, but it’s an important topic to think about. So, I did some research and wanted to share my thoughts and some of what I found.
What is leadership?
Definition: “The action of leading a group of people or an organization; the state or position of being a leader”
- guidance, direction, control, management, superintendence, supervision; organization, government.
- directorship, governorship, governance, administration, captaincy, control, ascendancy, supremacy, rule, command, power, dominion, influence.
Theories of leadership (source: Wikipedia)
“In the autocratic/paternalistic strain of thought, traditionalists recall the role of leadership of the Roman pater familias. Feminist thinking, on the other hand, may object to such models as patriarchal and posit against them emotionally attuned, responsive, and consensual empathetic guidance, which is sometimes associated with matriarchies. . . .
Comparable to the Roman tradition, the views of Confucianism on “right living” relate very much to the ideal of the (male) scholar-leader and his benevolent rule, buttressed by a tradition of filial piety.
The difference between being a leader and being a boss or manager
To understand leadership, it’s helpful to differentiate between leadership and other “leader-like” roles. Regardless of the title, there are differences between being a boss or a manager and actually being a leader.
Difference between being a leader and a boss
One writer suggests that:
- A boss knows things and imparts them to the employees, while a leader is always learning, including from those she leads;
- Bosses give answers and directions, while leaders seek solutions from all sources
- Bosses talk more than they listen, while leaders listen more than they talk
- Bosses direct, while leaders coach
- Bosses require or demand results, while leaders inspire performance
Difference between being a leader and a manager
According to Forbes:
- “Leaders create vision, managers create goals.”
- “Leaders are change agents, managers maintain the status quo.” (“Managers stick with what works, refining systems, structures and processes to make them better.” While leaders will innovate
- “Leaders are unique, managers copy.”
- “Leaders take risks, managers control risk.”
- “Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes.”
Can managers be leaders? Of course! These articles are not talking about the title, so much as they are about the reality of role. Whatever your title is, you can act in one of two ways, or at any given time, in a hybrid of the two. When we are at our strongest, we step into that leader role.
Areas where we lead
These differences were mainly discussed in the context of work but they also apply at home and in our other areas of life such as in friendships, in community organizations, and more. I don’t believe either is better than the other, and we can fill both roles, at work or at home. We need to be managers (sometimes even bosses) as well as leaders in lots of different areas. In any kind of situation, we can lead by our actions, influencing others.
Is leadership different for women?
There is some evidence that the experience of leading, or attempting to lead, may be different in some ways for women. But the biggest obstacle to taking an effective leadership role is likely to be between our own ears.
We’ve talked in a previous episode about Impostor Syndrome, and how it appears to affect women more often than men. For example, even highly accomplished women tend to underestimate their own skills and qualifications, which might make them hesitate to reach for a leadership role.
Several articles cite recent studies that show women match or outscore men in several traits considered important leadership qualities. Yet there seems to be evidence that fewer women than men aspire to the highest levels of leadership in business. Sheryl Sandberg, in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, describes the “Women’s Leadership Ambition Gap,’ which is defined as “the inner obstacles women must overcome to reach higher levels of executive management.” (For more about this, see “Female Leadership – “Be Competent Like a Woman and Confident and Ambitious Like a Man”.)
If you want to be an effective leader, it helps to define what that means. What qualities make a person effective in leadership?
A great place to start in defining what kind of leader you want to be is thinking about what you want from a leader. What makes you willingly follow someone? For instance, I want someone who has skill, knowledge, and a work ethic I can admire and respect, someone who demonstrates respect for me and my contribution and a sincere interest in me as a human being.
Beyond that personal evaluation, there’s been a lot of research done about leadership, so there are many, many articles and books talk about what qualities make a good, effective leader. Most of those resources highlight a lot of the same qualities or characteristics:
It’s hard for people to feel motivated to follow someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about
Note, though, that competence doesn’t necessarily mean expertise. You don’t have to be the best at doing a certain thing to lead others who are doing it. It’s important to remember that, because women tend to hold themselves back because of this, thinking they’re not “good enough” to be in a leading role. Instead, it’s enough to have a basic competency – know what you don’t know, be open to learn and improve; know who has a higher skill level than you do, and empower them to use it
Effective leadership requires confidence, the confidence in your own position and abilities, but also a level of confidence in those you’re leading, that they will follow and will perform as needed.
To be a leader, you need to have the confidence
- To lead
- To listen
- To let go
- To let others shine (without feeling threatened)
Leaders need to see where we could go from where we are and then communicate that to the rest of us.
What they say should line up with what they do with a certain level of moral value.
Leaders need the discipline to do the things that need to be done, to make the hard decisions, to develop the habits they’re going to need in order to accomplish the things they need to do.
Leaders need the ability to pivot, to adjust the approach and to try something new.
Leaders need to see the big picture and recognize how current events and approaches will play out in the future; they also need the perspective to see what’s most important and direct attention and resources there.
Leaders need to be aware of the needs and the feelings of the people they’re leading and be able to act in a compassionate way toward them.
9. Communication skills
One writer summed it up this way:
“Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline … Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.”
~ Jia Lin, in commentary on Sun Tzu, Art of War
If you want to be a leader
How do you become a leader? Do you have to wait for someone to say you’re a leader, or can you choose to lead regardless of your title? I believe it’s the latter.
One key aspect of leadership is influence. We can (and do) influence others no matter what our role or theirs. We can simply choose to be conscious of how we’re using our influence.
If you want to be a leader, you can start to be a leader. Instead of going along with the crowd if the morale is bad, for instance, you can choose your actions and words in a way that exerts a positive influence on the people around you and the environment you’re in. If you’re doing that, you are leading no matter what your title is.
Challenges of transitioning to a leadership role
The question that inspired this whole episode in the TPW Facebook group was, “What happens when you’re promoted at work, and put into a new role into management, and how do you deal with the challenges that come with that transition?” If you have any suggestions to offer, please email me or comment below or in the Facebook group.
My first suggestion is that you need to learn to see yourself in this new role – find your way to the confidence that you have what it takes to lead (overcoming that impostor syndrome).
Dealing with former peers from your new position in management takes some intention. The challenge: “You need to establish your credibility and authority, without acting like the promotion’s gone to your head.”
How to Manage Your Former Peers in the Harvard Business Review suggests some tips for dealing with that challenge:
Work with your superiors and HR about how to best let people know of the transition
- “Tread lightly at first.”
Don’t immediately make massive changes. Identify small decisions/changes you can make right away, but defer big ones a bit, until things have settled and you can get feedback from team members.
- Establish your authority
Suggestion: meet with individuals to talk about how you plan to lead. And don’t just talk. Listen, too. One expert suggests asking individuals, “What can I do to make you more successful?” This is consistent with a key leadership trait: focus on the people rather than the processes.
- The experts suggest distancing yourself a bit
They seem to agree that you can’t be the close buddy going forward that you might have been in the past (to avoid the appearance of favoritism). “Remain approachable, but show through your behavior that you are now their manager.” (from Promoted from Peer to Leader? 17 Ways to Make a Smooth Transition)
- Start building connections with your new peers: intentionally reach out to the other people at your level in the company.
For guidance in developing your own leadership style and skills, watch for other leaders whose approach and accomplishments you admire. Don’t copy, but watch and learn. What are they doing that you can adapt to your own style? (See episode 34 for thoughts about mentors and mentoring)
How to be a productive leader
In Episode 258, we talk about workplace productivity and how leaders/managers can make the workplace more conducive to productivity. Check out that episode, and some of the recommended resources in those show notes, for ideas.
Keep in mind, if you want your team/business/organization to be productive, you need to be productive personally.
- Lead by example when it comes to personal/professional productivity – People watch what we do to see if it lines up with what we say
- Be a role model – Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk
- Develop excellent communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal. Every expert I read stresses the importance of communication as a leadership skill, not just talking, but listening. Get training and coaching in this area if you need it. (Ask your team whether you need it!)
Learn and apply the principles of “transformational leadership” (as opposed to “transactional leadership”). According to several sources I consulted:
- Transactional leaders often remain uninvolved, giving directions from “on high,” and engaging with subordinates only, or primarily, to give orders and hold them accountable when expectations aren’t met. (They are bosses/managers, focused on the goals/processes/results rather than on the people.)
- “Transformational leaders aim to enhance the motivation, morale and job performance of followers by working with teams to identify needed change, to create a shared vision and to guide through inspiration.”
- Another writer said that transformational leaders “are not just concerned about helping the group achieve its goals; they also care about helping each member of the group reach his or her full potential.”
Studies indicate women instinctively tend to use this transformational style of leadership and can leverage that inclination by taking intentional approaches, such as:
- Focus on development rather than goals.
Help your team develop into better people, developing skills, characteristics, etc. which will lead to greater success in achieving goals.
- Invest time and attention in the individuals on your team
- Emphasize teamwork and authentic communication.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg recommends that to foster authentic communication, we need to welcome it and model it by asking for feedback and publicly thanking those who are honest. She also urges keeping a balance and factoring in appropriate consideration for people’s feelings: “be delicately honest, not brutally honest.”
- Focus on individuals’ strengths, and steer tasks toward the people who are good at them.
“Rather than delegating work based on time or workload, learn what each member of your team is naturally good at and enjoys and give them as much work as possible that fits that.” Again, this requires spending time with them to know them well–what they’re good at and what they enjoy doing.
What do you think?
What does leadership mean to you? What are your struggles with leadership? Share your best tips for leaders and your other thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
- Wikipedia: Leadership
- Difference between a boss and a leader
- 9 Differences between being a boss and a manager
- Female Leadership – “Be Competent Like a Woman and Confident and Ambitious Like a Man
- How to Manage Your Former Peers
- Peer to Leader? 17 Ways to Make a Smooth Transition
- Women in Leadership: 6 Strategies for Female Managers
- Peer to Leader? 17 Ways to Make a Smooth Transition
- TPW Episode 34 – Mentors and Mentorship for Women
- TPW Episode 63 – Imposter Syndrome
- TPW Episode 258 – Workplace Productivity
- Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Leadby Sheryl Sandberg
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