Leadership – What Does It Mean?
What is a leader? Are you a leader? Do you have to be a people manager to be a leader? Do you care about leadership?
These are all questions I’ve faced recently. I’m attending some leadership training and I’m doing a lot of introspection. When I got to the first Women Unlimited session I actually started my answer to the ubiquitous “why are you here” question with “my manager made me come.” And I sort of meant it. But really that was a cover for my reluctance to face the hard questions about myself, my career, and my life. I knew that once I started digging I would find things I didn’t want to know or address. I knew it meant a lot of time and hard work. But as my friend Suzanne Jackowski said at the #SQLPASS #PASSWIT lunch, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” That’s the first time I’d heard it related to getting ahead at work, but it’s a perfect fit. Does it really take “too much time and effort” to figure out your true desires and goals? To take that knowledge and search for a job that lets you use your strengths and doesn’t force you to constantly work on your worst weaknesses? To figure out what you want to be known for? What exactly am I willing to do for an even better job and career? And if I’m not willing to do it, who’s to blame when I wish my career were going in a different direction?
So now I’m commencing a round of trying to define my brand, interviewing respected leaders, analyzing the difference between managers and leaders, learning to play to my strengths, taking surveys, and thinking all the time about how everything I do or don’t do looks to those who matter – whoever that may be. Because letting leaders know what you’re doing is key to your success. I signed up for a series of four sessions with Go Lead Idaho, attended a talk at work given by people one level above myself, and am thinking hard about what else I need to do to gain control of my future.
Back to the questions I started with. A leader is someone who gets people to follow. It’s that simple. Sometimes I’m a leader, oftentimes I’m a follower. Managers might be leaders, and leaders might be managers. But there’s no true relationship between them. We like to think managers are chosen for leadership skills, but quite often they’re chosen for doing their last job well. And when someone is chosen for leadership rather than knowing the job well, we all complain that they don’t understand us and our jobs. I work for a company that highly values leaders and gives them the option of a non-management track to advance very far up the chain, so I don’t have to be a manager to be a leader. As for the question of do you care about leadership, that’s up to you. Do you want to be in control of your life and your career, or are you comfortable following? For most of us the desire and need to be a leader will change over time, perhaps even over the course of a day. Be a leader when you can and follow when it makes sense. The hard part is knowing when each is appropriate.