Cultivating Leadership

I’ve been thinking a lot about management and leadership lately–specifically the difference between the two, why some people in leadership positions manage and others lead, and the impact leaders who are not managing can have on the culture and effectiveness on an organization.

According to the Oxford online dictionary, management is “to be in charge, administer, run.” Those words suggest following a prescribed path, with little or no autonomy.  Leadership, on the other hand, involves developing or acting on a vision, being strategic, and influencing others.  Leaders determine the path, whereas managers follow it.

People in management positions can be leaders.  However, people in leadership positions should not act as managers. Understanding the difference between management and leadership is essential for anyone in a leadership role. Unfortunately, in my experience I’ve seen way too many people get it wrong.

I am certainly no expert. However, I have made a lot of mistakes and believe I can use those experiences to help others.  If I were coaching a new leader, the first thing I would do is help them identify what their “why” is.  In other words, their purpose, or the reasons they are drawn to the work.  

Next, I would encourage them to create a vision for themselves in the role. Often, people in leadership positions don’t realize that the very nature of the role affords them a degree of autonomy, which enables them the ability to design the working conditions, practices, and priorities as they see fit. 

The final step in self-actualizing as a leader, is to be deliberate about allocating time to think strategically and cultivate relationships.  People in leadership positions who spend a lot of time “in the weeds” have a difficult time seeing the big picture, identifying goals, and galvanizing the culture. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, leaders who understand the difference between management and leadership can have a huge impact on the culture of an organization.  Unfortunately, learning to lead takes practice.  The good news is that in most organizations there are all kinds of talent at every level–providing endless opportunities for leaders to cultivate new leaders.  

Please comment if you have thoughts about this, or if you are willing to share ways you’ve cultivated leadership within your organization.

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