Leadership | A misunderstood word

I saw a job posting today titled “Team Leader.” It is not an unusual title for entry-level management jobs, such as the one being advertised, but it struck me as sad that such a powerful and important word could be used so nonchalantly. A leader cannot be created because a title is bestowed upon a person. It cannot be written into a job description and then merely played as one of the job duties. No, leadership is not a title. Being a leader is a lifestyle.

The issue with relegating leadership to a job title is that it diminishes the power of the word. More than that, it can very often set the poor, unsuspecting employee (who is given the title) up for disaster. Sure, many people get the jobs they have because they are leaders. Leadership is a character trait. It is a characteristic that hiring managers should look for in their employees, but it is incorrect to think that a title will make a leader. Asking someone who is unprepared for leadership to assume the title, because we think it sounds better than “manager,” is not fair to the manager or the people whom they manage. And it is definitely not fair to true leaders who live out the responsibilities and sacrifices of leadership daily.

Set Up For Failure

When someone is called into the role of leadership, the role comes with very specific associations. People rightfully associate leadership with mentors, trendsetters, visionaries, policy changers, or even rebels. Yes, leaders are rebels. They are known and praised for changing the status quo, questioning the way things are, and challenging and inspiring us to think and do things in new ways.

Herein lies the problem with trying to use leadership as a hipper synonym for management. A manager is responsible for implementing policy, holding people accountable to guidelines and regulations; in a nutshell, for holding people to the status quo set by upper management. A manager is almost the exact opposite of a leader. This does not make a manager bad. In fact, they play a vital role in an organizational structure, and their skill sets are highly needed and should be coveted by smart hiring managers. However, the expectations of a manager are completely different than the expectations of a leader. Yes, a manager can have the characteristics of a leader, but the expectations are not the same. A manager is expected to follow and enforce the rules. A true leader will always rebel (I use that word lightly) against such strict guidelines because their bent is towards change, not maintenance.

The Real Characteristics of a Leader

Lastly, the other confusion about leadership is that the leader is always found at the top, as the eccentric owner or CEO. Leaders can be found at all levels of an organization. Sometimes, leaders don’t even belong to an organization, but their lives exemplify the quality of a leader.

The characteristics of a leader can be hard to define. There is not a one-size-fits-all model, but I have observed that all leaders at least share these six characteristics:  (1) they lead by example, (2) they teach and inspire, (3) they hold others accountable, (4) they look for ways to improve the world around them, (5) they speak the hard truth, (6) contrary to pop culture depictions, they are humble. Over the next few weeks, we will dive deeper into each of these six characteristics and examine why these qualities are necessary for leadership.