Phillip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, said, “An army of deer led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lion led by a deer.” That may be true, but I’ve come to believe that Phillip missed the bigger point: An army of lions led by a lion is to be feared most of all, for it is unstoppable.
What’s more powerful than having strong, effective leadership at the top of your organization? Having an organization of lions where everyone leads.
We both know that having a title doesn’t necessarily make someone a leader, and nor should not having a title prevent anyone from leading when appropriate. Leadership is about what you do and who you are, not what title you possess. Here are some distinguishing characteristics of leaders:
- They base their leadership on power with people as opposed to power over people
- They desire to collaborate rather than control
- Their leadership is based on skills rather than a position or title
- Their influence is determined by opportunities rather than organizational charts
- They lead others because others respect them, not because they fear them
- They serve alongside their followers rather than rule above them
And while I’m at it, let’s put the old argument to rest: managers and leaders aren’t the same thing.
- Managers have employees :: leaders win followers.
- Managers react to change :: leaders create it.
- Managers have good ideas :: leaders implement them.
- Managers communicate :: leaders persuade.
- Managers control groups :: leaders create teamwork.
- Managers try to be heroes :: leaders create heroes all around them.
- Managers take credit :: leaders take responsibility.
- Managers have fun :: leaders give fun.
You can identify managers by using an organizational chart. Not so with leaders. You recognize leaders not by their position, but by their power with people. You recognize leaders, not by the resources they are given, but by the results they produce.
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At an American Toyota plant, any employee on the line has the authority and responsibility to shut down the line at any time they feel necessary. Quality control and problem solving aren’t left to the titled managers. A woman who spots a problem is expected to lead by calling attention to it rather than allowing it to slip through and become an imperfection on a dealer’s lot or owner’s driveway.
My friend Susan told me a story about the best receptionist she ever met, a woman who served as the “front person” at the company where she worked. On her desk was a sign: Receptionistville. Population: 1. If you asked her what her title was, she’d respond, Intergalactic Empress. She took herself lightly, but her job seriously. She was a leader for the company as its first point of contact.
A cable TV installer I met in one of my seminars prided himself on the many value-added services he provided customers when he worked in their homes, including setting the clock to the correct time on their electronic devices and showing them how to use features that confused them. He didn’t consider himself an installer, but a “home-entertainment consultant.”
A volunteer at a non-profit, filling in by answering the phones, took a phone call from a disgruntled donor. The donor felt unappreciated. The volunteer was able to communicate the gratitude of the organization for the donor’s previous support, thereby regaining his loyalty. In the end, the volunteer’s sincerity and belief in the work of the organization convinced the donor to increase his support.
Leadership happens in large ways and in small ways.
Many suffer from the misconception that leadership is about large, sweeping acts of history: Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Churchill and his “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech during the Second World War.
Yes, those history-making events certainly marked extraordinary acts of leadership and courage. But what we don’t always realize is that each of our daily actions and efforts have significant impact, as well. Rosa Parks had no idea of the impact she would have on history when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Yet her actions and courage changed the course of our nation’s history.
When you do your job—any job—with initiative and determination to make a positive difference, you become a leader.