Recognising and understanding the differences between management and leadership qualities is not always easy. Two of our mentees, Sabrina Nixon and Karen Searle, explore this in a bit more detail and share top tips to help navigate the journey to leadership.
Hello! We’re Karen and Sabrina, two mentees on the most recent Tony Elischer Foundation Leadership programme. Read on to hear our lightbulb moments about what distinguishes leaders from managers, and our top three takeaways to help you on your own leadership journey.
Follow the leader, leader, leader
If you search for synonyms for ‘leader’, among the many options (from ‘mover-and-shaker’ to ‘kingpin’), you’ll find the word ‘manager’. Interestingly, the reverse isn’t true.
Being a manager doesn’t automatically entitle you to call yourself a leader. While these words are ways to describe someone at the front of a group of people, what distinguishes a leader from a manager is the reason why people are there.
For managers, you’re at the front because it’s part of your job description that people are working for you. Being a manager is a hands-on, practical role you fulfil when you start being responsible for colleagues, from running one to ones to prioritising workloads.
For leaders, you’re at the front because people are choosing to follow you based on your vision. You can be a leader in any role, but the power rests with the choices of others. They’ll follow your lead based on how you inspire others around you to believe in what you’re looking to achieve. Leaders are strategic and think beyond the day-to-day to focus on the bigger picture and goals you can get to by working together.
As managers, it’s important to aspire to be the best leader you can be. By being both a manager and a leader, your team will be doubly motivated to follow you – inspired by the work you’ll be achieving together, and not grudgingly completing tasks set by a manager they aren’t motivated to follow.
Leadership powers… activate!
So… what can you do to start your own leadership journey?
- Set a clear, shared vision – to become a leader you need to know where you’re taking people to. Focus on getting clarity, and involving your colleagues in the process, setting out what you’ll being working towards and crucially what success looks like. Involving your team in setting your goal will mean you’re all on the same page about why you’ve chosen this path and the decisions that underpin them.
- Lead by example – Think about your role in the team – what behaviours are you expecting from your colleagues, and how are you demonstrating these through how you work?
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable – We both found that stepping up from being a manager to a leader involves stepping further away from the day to day, and the detail. This can be uncomfortable for those of us who love to be subject matter experts. But as a leader, you need to become more of a generalist – trusting your team around you to be in the detail and share/ involve you only in what’s helpful to get closer to your goals.
- Switch up your style – You’ll need to use different leadership approaches with different teams and during different times. Everyone has their comfort zone, but it’s important that you can always keep focused on the bigger picture. For me and Karen, we’re keen collaborators, but sometimes you need to make executive decisions to get one step closer to your shared goal. The key here is to apply Kim Scott’s Radical Candor model – caring personally and challenging directly, to make sure the team understand this approach and why decisions have been made.
- Find a mentor! – Being matched with the right mentor will help transform your leadership journey. They set aside time to fully understand you and your leadership goals. In partnership, they’ll share their wisdom, and coach you through new ways of thinking to become the best leader you can be. Keep an eye out for the Tony Elischer Foundation application window next year – we’d thoroughly recommend it! In the meantime, why not think about people in your own network who you look up to, and approach them to become your mentor?
We’re both excited to continue growing as leaders, and hope our top tips inspire you to think about how you can deepen your leadership skills too.
What were your biggest leadership lessons? Are there any differences we’ve missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.