Are you a manager or leader?
This is a subject that has been on my mind for many, many years. Some may argue that these are the same. They are not. However, you cannot have one without the other, but they should not be viewed as the same. Some information I am about to share is purely from my perspective and likely not received well by some. This is not my intent; it is all about sparking conversation and making people think.
What inspired me to write this, you may ask yourself. Well, there are many different things over the past few years that have, but most recently, this Twitter post inspired me to put this into words.
IMHO, a true leader should only be visible within the team you are leading. Outside of your team however, the leader should not easily be recognized as your team should be empowered and on the same page. If the leader were to leave, that team should pick right up!— Larry Smith Jr. (@mrlesmithjr) November 19, 2019
I was raised in a military family, as many of us are. Things that my father taught me regarding this were paramount to shaping me somewhat differently than most (I believe). My father taught me to be a leader by example (as most fathers/mothers do). However, he also taught me you do not need to be in the spotlight to be a true leader. Treat all people equally, and never put yourself above others. I remember a story he once told me where he was promoted to foreman (General Motors). He initially thought it would be great but soon discovered it was not because of his peers trying to embed into him that he was now one of them and should not treat his former peers the same as he did. After about a week of this, he said he refused to do that and wanted to be the foreman no longer and would rather be with his people. My father was a leader to the utmost degree until he passed away almost five years ago. In my eyes, he is still a leader. Another thing he taught me was to respect titles but to take them with a grain of salt. Titles should never dictate a conversation or persuade you in your decision(s). This has stuck with me throughout my life.
Throughout my career, I have been approached many times over the past ten years or so about taking on a management role. Anyone who knows me where this has been discussed, you already know what my answer was.
“No way in hell, not for me.”
So, in most cases, it was agreed that I would function in a mentor/advisory role. I have spent many years mentoring others to be empowered and have a voice. I have worked equally in this capacity with my immediate team(s) and management team(s). I am notorious for having chat sessions with others while in meetings, guiding them in what they might want to say or do based on the context of the discussion. I had somewhat of an answer if I was providing others with guidance. So, why would I not be the one to speak up and give the answer and be the leader? The answer is simple: empower those around you to make their voices heard. This builds confidence in others and empowers them. It also means that I am learning from others because they may interpret something differently in their message delivery. I feel successful by seeing others feel and be successful.
So, you might think this could be interpreted as the role of a manager. I disagree here, and now I will digress (maybe).
What does a manager role mean to me?
Work with me here, and please do not take offense, as none is intended.
A manager should be the go-to person and the face of the team they represent. They do not need to be technical, and honestly, I’d prefer they not to be. They need to have their team’s back in their time of need and be the one who is put into the spotlight. I view a manager as a dictator (not in the bad sense). They are the one who dictates what is being asked to be done and ultimately should be accountable for things getting done. In most cases, they may or may not know what needs to be done to deliver. They should also be open to the fact that their team may disagree with them and let the team decide the right course of action. I learned many years ago that your job is to make the manager look good! This translates to the fact that the guidance given to your manager should be in the best interest of everyone.
Remember the part where I mentioned that titles should not dictate your conversations or decisions? Yeah, this is where it is essential. It is not a means to disrespect your manager but to put them on the same level playing ground. A good manager will respect this and be willing to allow this. But they must understand it is about having their best interest and making them look good! Remember the part about feeling successful by seeing others being successful? Yeah, this is part of that.
What does a leadership role mean to me?
In my opinion, a leader leads by example and does not feel the need to stand out from their peers. A leader is not the go-to person on the direction of how things are moving or the face of their team. They are, however, the ones to inspire and empower others to do great things. A leader may only be recognized by their immediate peers but outside of them, they should only be viewed as part of the team. Remember the Twitter post I linked to above? I think the leader should not stand out externally to their team. A true leader will bring those up around them, and the whole team should deliver the same message. Now, their manager may recognize who the leader is, but outside of that, no one should know. A true leaders should never be felt they belong in the spotlight. True leaders should have their whole team in the spotlight. Often true leaders may or may not even recognize that they are. If you realize it, be humble and never use it to take the upper hand. Use it in a way to empower those around you.
As you can probably tell, this topic is very passionate for me. Am I right in my opinions here? Probably not, as they are just that, my opinions. However, I do believe these are great topics for discussion.
I also put this tweet out a week or so ago. And I truly meant it! And I also received numerous amazing messages from folks! And for anyone reading this post, feel free to reach out!
I'm at that point that my day to day work I do is no longer enjoyable without being more of a mentor. Problem is I need more willing mentees available. If you or someone you know is interested, reach out to me.— Larry Smith Jr. (@mrlesmithjr) November 11, 2019