THE BLOG

Are You a Leader or Just a Manager?

05/22/2013 06:10 pm 18:10:14 | Updated Jul 22, 2013
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It seems that on almost a daily basis, I see or hear the words "leader" and "manager" used interchangeably. (In fact, I sometimes catch myself using them interchangeably, too.)

But, when we look closely, it becomes clear that "leader" and "manager" are not necessarily synonymous. Having a management position is not required to be a leader. And, there are many people in management positions that are certainly not leaders.

Confused? hope to clarify below.

What is a manager?

The first definition of "manager" that appears when I search with Google is "A person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization." For a person to have such responsibilities, we can assume that they most likely have good "management" skills, like being able to make efficient use of time, plan schedules and strategies, create and manage a budget, etc. But do any of those skills necessarily predict that the person will be successful as a leader of other people?

Also, a person with such responsibilities and skills almost always has a title like "manager", or "supervisor", or "director." But having a title doesn't make someone a leader. If a person has a management title but no one is willingly following her or him, then she or he is not a leader. She or he is just a manager.

What is a leader?

We are only leaders when people willingly follow us and we are able to influence people's behaviors in a way that is mutually beneficial for both the leader and follower. If people aren't willingly following us, then they're doing so out of fear, which is a very unsustainable way to influence people's behaviors.

The ability to positively influence people's behaviors doesn't require a title or management position. As James Hunter points out in his great book, The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle, the two leaders who were arguably the most influential in history, Jesus and Gandhi, had no title at all. But they influenced billions of people's behaviors and billions of people willingly followed them (and many still do). Gandhi's leadership ended the oppressive British rule over India, liberating hundreds of millions of people. Jesus was so influential that most of us base our calendar off of His birthday.

The two most influential leaders in history built their influence in exactly the same way. They both focused on loving and serving the people around them. I believe that there is no better way to build influence than this. People are much more willing to follow us, when they know that we truly care about them and want to help them.

A great business example of building influence through serving our people is a story about the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, who was known for doing things like coming in on Thanksgiving Day to work side-by-side with baggage handlers and help them with their duties.

In early 2000, Southwest was about halfway through the quarter and it appeared as though for the first time in the company's 30-year history, they were not going to have a profitable quarter. (Thirty years of consecutive profitable quarters is impressive in any industry. In the airline industry, it's almost unthinkable!) It was determined that the only way they would have a profitable quarter was if each person in the company could save, on average, about five dollars per day for the rest of the quarter.

Herb wrote a letter and sent it to every employee in the company. The letter read something like this:

Dear Friends, we've had a great run of 30 consecutive years of profitable quarters, but it looks like we're not going to make it this time. The only way we will is if each one of you could find a way to save five dollars a day for the rest of the quarter. Would you please try to do that?

What's most notable is how he signed the letter:

Love, Herb

It's notable because he meant it. And everyone knew that he meant it. They remembered him coming in on Thanksgiving Day to help the baggage handlers.

What do you supposed happened? I'm sure you've guessed it. eople found ways to save five dollars a day, and Southwest had yet another profitable quarter.

That's the influence we create when people know that we truly care about them.

What are some of the ways you work to serve and care for your people?

What are some examples of how serving and caring for your people resulted in better business outcomes?