The terms “leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be.
Both apply to executives, but they don’t mean the same thing. An entrepreneur heading a company could easily be a one-man-show, manager or leader (depending on the stage of the company), but should always aim to develop into a leader as the company grows and matures.
Although good managers are leaders in the sense that they help develop their team, they are more concerned with the day-to-day duties, the tasks, and details. Managers focus on what needs to be accomplished to move things forward incrementally, for example, ensuring a client’s project is progressing according to plan, getting a proposal out the door, or making sure the sales team is closing enough deals each week. Leaders fold those day-to-day needs into big-picture goals and long-term strategies. And a big part of what a leader does is inspire and develop those subordinate to them.
Leaders know how to rally people around their vision, and they are excellent at helping others both see the importance of their role within the organization and motivate them to achieve. They are coaches and mentors who, rather than looking for ways to build their own dossier, give credit to others for what’s being achieved. Leaders, not managers, create change within a company, think about risks and rewards and remind others of the company’s values.
As entrepreneurs, we might be at various points of the growth scale between Manager and Leader. Here are some strategies that have helped me continue to evolve into a leader:
Think big picture and begin to let go of some of the day-to-day tasks.
As a manager, you should be developing your high-potential people. Start letting go of some of the responsibilities that are repetitive and done each day. Let’s say you manage a project or multiple projects. Likely you’re assigning work to different subordinates, setting objectives, and measuring progress. You might continue to set objectives and goals, but assign someone else the organization of tasks. You can set the metrics by which you will measure performance and success, but let someone else do the measuring, analyze the work and interpret the team’s performance.
Perhaps the most important part of big-picture thinking is your focus on developing, motivating and inspiring those subordinate to you. Organizations with employees that have someone at work that cares about them as a person, talks to them about career progress, helps with their development and provides opportunities to learn and grow have lower turnover, higher sales, and better productivity. As a leader, you want to move away from a focus on your performance and achievements and think about how you can help those working for you be high achievers and the best at what they do. That’s a legacy that will remain long after a particular project is completed.
Part of letting go is learning to delegate effectively. As a manager, you want to be involved in everything you can, because you want to be able to take credit for results that are being achieved. As a leader, you don’t need to take credit all the time. With each task that needs to be done, you should ask yourself if someone else at the company can do it effectively. If there is someone else who can do the task well, you should delegate.
Smart leadership demands the ability to delegate so that you have the bandwidth to focus on responsibilities that are only yours. Plan and prioritize work so your team can operate well and successfully. Delegate that work in a way that empowers each person on your team to do their best and plays to their strengths.
Develop your people.
You’ll want to harness each employee’s strengths, interests, and passions so that they can flourish. When they excel so does the team and the company. Linking the performance goals of the organization to an individual’s development goals will allow you to find opportunities for your employees to learn and grow. Meet with your team members regularly to discuss how to do this. Together, you can identify strengths and weaknesses and what each employee wants to work on, and how they envision their development.
Stimulate learning and growing by sharing information with your team about the company’s operations, being as transparent as you can be about the challenges the company faces and the direction in which it’s headed. That can be things like changing customer expectations, new and emerging strategic plans, new vendors and industry or economic trends impacting the business. Encourage your team to share their opinions and questions, as well as suggestions. Meet more than once a year with each of your people to talk about their career goals and interests, so they are continually refined. The better your understanding of that, the more likely you and your employees are to spot developmental opportunities.
Finally, rally your people around a common goal or vision.
One of the most important things you can do to make sure you’ve aligned your people around a common objective is to communicate your intent—early, often and simply, say Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of the best-selling book Switch. They say that what looks like resistance from your team is often just a lack of clarity. You may be so invested in your vision and agenda that you don’t realize that it’s not as clear to others as it is to you. Push your team to have an open, honest dialogue about that goal and the plan to reach it. If you need to explain in detail why a particular strategy will vastly improve, say, productivity in a particular area or save the company a great deal on energy expenditures while promoting its green agenda, take the time to do that. And reward those who don’t just buy-in to the goal, but who dig in and throw their head–and heart–into the work.