You are a leader. You may or may not be a manager, but you are already a leader.
Think about it this way. Whether you realize it or not... whether you intend for this to happen or not... people notice what you do. Sometimes, they emulate what you do. Sometimes, they ask you to take the lead and then they follow. Formally or informally, you sometimes influence and steer team members, projects and output.
As a de facto leader (regardless of title), you may misunderstand your role. After all, you didn't sign up for the role of leader. It just happened.
You do, however, have a choice. You can lead inadvertently and haphazardly, leaving the outcomes up to chance. Or you can lead intentionally, setting the direction and being a force for positive outcomes.
But when you choose to lead, you owe it to yourself and others to understand what that means. Leaders (often those who are also titled "managers") often misunderstand what that role entails and, therefore, limit their own effectiveness. Here are 5 common ways leaders misunderstand what it means to be a leader.
1. You think it's your job to deliver results every day. You measure success by short-term standards like daily output or monthly quotas. You monitor your own and/or the teams' activities, frequently consult the dashboard, and hold yourself and others to pre-determined performance standards.
2. You think it's your job to be the most knowledgeable, most capable and most experienced member of the team. You are a problem solver, waiting in the wings to handle the tough assignments and clean up the messes. You step in to handle the most challenging work, and you enjoy showing what you know. You are the go-to person, the subject matter expert.
3. You think it's your job to maintain the status quo. You believe "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." You and your team have plenty to do, and you do it well. So, you reason, why make changes that will slow the team down or take their focus away from the work they've been assigned to do?
4. You think it's your job to keep the peace. You make fair and well-reasoned decisions based on precedents and protocols. You avoid conflict and expect others to do the same. You prefer not to take a risk, especially one that will involve change or disruption.
5. You think it's your job to keep execute the plan. You are checking the boxes. From working through a task list to ensuring and modeling employee compliance on policies, you do things by the book. You listen carefully to senior management and follow their instructions to the letter. You don't deviate from their plan, and you don't question their plan.
None of these five behaviors are "wrong" or "bad." They are just not the behaviors of leaders. Leaders do things differently.
Leaders think longer term and bigger picture. Leaders build others to exceed their own capabilities. Leaders strive to discover new ways of doing things and challenge the status quo in search of incremental improvements. Leaders see healthy conflict and risk as stepping stones to a better tomorrow. They offer new ideas, encourage others to offer new ideas and embrace new ideas.
Click here to take a free self-assessment and determine whether you are more frequently acting as a leader or as a manager. Your job role may require you to be both, and your awareness of these 25 differences will help you avoid the mistakes of misunderstanding.
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