We all experience leadership directly and/or indirectly, and we are all also capable of being leaders. No, management isn’t leadership, but the process of managing people and situations does exist, it’s necessary. Within a job role someone can be in a management position, but this doesn’t necessarily make them a good leader. Some people may boil these down to semantics, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. Situations do need to be managed while people want to be led.
I spent years in college learning about what leadership entails during my time in ROTC before entering the real world as a Military Officer, then having to put what I learned to use. Anyone who knows the structure of Military organizations knows that NCOs are the backbone; they work their way up and earn their presence as leaders in their organizations. Officers by title are expected to lead, and a certain authority/respect is given by default. As an Officer, I learned that you could lose respect quickly in various ways: not being fit, not being competent, not standing up for your soldiers, and not addressing your team’s issues. Strive for excellence of character, Arete.
For almost a decade, I’ve been a software engineer; I’ve also led in various roles. I’ve had numerous managers, team leads, executive leadership teams, etc. My thoughts on titles are as followed you don’t need to be a manager to lead or be a team leader to be a leader. Within your scope of responsibilities, situations may arise that require leadership, or it may be expected as a default in your role. Titles are useful for a range of things: salaries, known hierarchies, job roles, but for the most part, if there isn’t a standard across an entire industry like the Military, the effectiveness of those can be vastly different from one organization to another.
Some people are born to be great leaders. Just like most things in life, I believe that there will always be some probability that someone will have a natural affinity in this area. I also believe that leading is a skill that can be learned, and if you want to improve as a leader, it’s possible. Which leads me to casual leadership.
Have you ever planned a trip, and your friends left you in charge, not only for planning purposes but once you arrived at the destination? Have you ever had to be the most vocal person on a team to accomplish a task? If you have a family, you’ve more than likely had to step up in some way financially and/or emotionally. Have you ever been in a situation where your individual contribution didn’t matter as much as the collective?
All of the previous situations offer casual leadership opportunities, and if you’re aware, these give you insight into your leadership style. Your personality can also have a huge effect on your leadership style: extrovert vs. introvert, Steve Jobs vs. Elon Musk, Michael Jordan vs. Lebron James, Sheryl Sandberg vs. Michelle Obama. We could conclude that their leadership styles are all different but still effective.
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – General George S. Patton, U.S. Army
As leaders, we build and groom future leaders with opportunity leadership also known as delegation. Figuring out what to delegate as a leader is critical. Not for your own good but for building trust and figuring out who your future leaders are on your team. At any company, there are focus areas that encompass some body of work. As a leader, you can’t possibly do everything yourself, and it’s also not in your best interest to even try. Having insight into the focus area of how work could be broken up gives you an idea of how you could possibly delegate to a team member to achieve the company’s end result. Empower people and allow them an opportunity for growth.
People can be motivated in different ways; having core values and a set mission gives teams something to stand for and get behind. Creatives don’t like to just work without a set goal: we need vision, really a nice place for the 5 W’s and How we are going to accomplish a task.
- Motivated teams deliver higher quality work
- Motivated individuals can get in a state of flow with their work
- Motivated teams have a high state of optimism, even during stressful times.
- Motivation unlocks creativity
I like to think that purpose is tied to what an individual thinks they are bringing to the team, with the ability to execute on that feeling. That purpose should be tied to some key performance indicators and overall business goals. One interesting thing to me is watching companies start from nothing and grow. You need to be motivated to problem solve as a leader. If someone decides to invest in you, you, in turn, need to invest in others, and if you’re just starting, the ability to inspire people to take risks has motivational factors itself.
In fast-moving environments, we like people who are adaptable, those who are flexible. In stable settings, those characteristics might not be called on as much because possibly, things may already be in a state of flow; a well-oiled machine. Nevertheless, looking at scenarios that play out within any setting calls for great leaders to be conscious of their surroundings, empathic to their teams, and able to adapt as well to changing circumstances. I mentioned some different leadership styles above that we may encounter. I believe most leaders will naturally lean into what they are comfortable with, but situations arise where you need to adjust, and in that adjustment is where your leadership evolves. People react differently based on what’s being communicated and how it’s being communicated. As humans are complex beings, it’s important to take that into consideration during a leader’s journey.
What I like to see in a leader is effort, inspiration, decisiveness, honesty, and an effective communicator. Why is leadership important? Leadership has a direct impact on those individuals around you. There will be moments of uncertainty with life and business, and having leaders with those qualities will help individuals navigate turbulent times. Great leaders are selfless, they help others grow organically, and the value created may be far-reaching outside of the intangibles.
If you catch yourself in situations where people are looking at you to lead, accept the challenge because on the opposite side, there’s growth and, hopefully, along the way, you inspire someone else to do the same.
“The highest human act is to inspire - Nipsey Hussle”