I have a pet peeve, and it’s how people today talk about leadership as if it was some magical substance that occurs spontaneously only at the top of an organization and nowhere else. For example, if there is an issue at the frontline, there is a tendency for employees to blame “leadership”. Similarly, there is a tendency for middle management to tell employees that they have to do something because that’s what “leadership” wants - when really they should be taking ownership of their own decisions.
When people speak of leadership in this way, what they are really talking about is executive management. When this kind of behaviour becomes commonplace, it sets up a very unhealthy dynamic, because organizations shouldn’t be about we versus they; it should just be about we. An organization should be centred around how we, as well-intentioned individuals, work together in the best way possible for the success of the organization, because we are all in it together. Whether we are talking about a frontline worker, janitor, administrative support person, sales person, or the VP of Operations, every employee has an important role to play.
What Is Leadership?
Leadership as a concept is something that can and should occur at any level in an organization. So, for example, let’s say that you’re a frontline worker working in a mining operation and you see a new hire who doesn’t know how to use a shovel properly. You know that if this person keeps using that tool incorrectly, they’re going to hurt themselves and have blisters and so on, not to mention they’re not going to be very effective in their work. So you show them how to use that tool properly. It’s a nice thing to do, but it’s also an act of leadership. You’re not being paid to help them. Some people would choose not to say or do anything. Some would display those leadership skills.
And in particular, all managers must be leaders. It’s just part of the job to encourage, to motivate, to coach, to support, to elevate; yes, to lead. Non-managers, also, throughout the organization, can and should have the opportunity to take a leadership role as circumstances warrant.
As a manager, you want to encourage leadership at all levels. A team working together can accomplish more than all of the individuals on it working individually. You can encourage leadership skills in your team by displaying leadership skills of your own.
Leaders at All Levels
If an organization only has leadership at the very top, it will never be successful. Certainly senior executives need to be able to demonstrate leadership—and a higher level of leadership, because leadership at a more senior level is more complex—but that does not mean that there are no leadership skills required lower in the organization. Managers at lower levels need to be leaders too in order to manage effectively. For organizations to be successful, an understanding of the importance of leaders at all levels and in all positions is critical.
For this reason, in our wok in organization we sue the term managerial leadership. Managers need to lead. And leaders need to manage. It’s that simple!
To find more about why management and leadership are actually just two sides to the same coin, check out this 17 minute video clip: Are You a leader or a Manager? This is an excerpt for a workshop I did for the EMBA Alumni at the Telfer School of Business at the University of Ottawa, In it I use clips from pop culture such as the Survivor TV show and Family Feud to explore society’s generally negative perception of management – and why it doesn’t have to be that way!
Dwight Mihalicz, President, Effective Managers™, focuses his work on accountability, and helping organizations to use his Effective Point of Accountability® framework to improve strategy execution and overall organizational performance. He has over 40 years of organization experience. Over this period he has been required to focus on and solve complex problems in local, national, international and global settings. Throughout his career, he has developed extensive expertise in supporting improvement processes with organizations of all sizes and in all sectors.