“ If your actions inspire people to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams
The term ‘manager’ has gotten a bad rap lately. Maybe it’s a function of our systematized, franchise-driven world where we replicate operations in hundreds of locations and rely on “managers” to ensure that everyone’s experience is consistent regardless of time or place.
But leadership is different. Leadership moves beyond managing and incorporates the heart and soul of the enterprise. Leadership stirs people to go beyond what is required, and to do what’s important. A leader inspires and motivates, certainly, but also sets the tone, recognizes strengths as they arise, acknowledges brilliance and sets standards well above what most people think they’re capable of achieving. And a leader accepts accountability for the process and the results.
A brilliant example of this was a former colleague, Chad, the manager of housekeeping at a beautiful resort in the Rocky Mountains. His job was challenging; while guests brought high expectations, the pay for his staff could barely be considered a living wage since it is so expensive to live in the area. In addition, the competition for people among the resorts was fierce.
In Chad’s hotel, the experience was different. Chad’s turnover was almost non-existent. The rooms gleamed. When you ran across his housekeepers in the hallway, you always, always received a genuine smile and warm hello.
When I asked Chad how in the world he kept his team in tact doing work most of us would avoid, he said something surprising: “It’s not my job to hire people to clean rooms. My job is to create experiences.”
He explained that, while training people to clean rooms is time-consuming, it’s not particularly hard. The magic happens when the team shows up every day to create wonderful family memories for the guests. That magic involves recognizing what people are capable of, drawing out their best efforts and encouraging pride in the work; that’s leadership.
For most of us, school or our first job taught us how to manage. Management skills training is great but only takes us so far. So, can managers become leaders? We all have the capacity for great leadership; it’s a matter of opening up to learn from others and ourselves.
Build your leadership muscles in these ways:
Great models. I don’t mean the supermodel/runway kind of models, but the “I would run through walls for you” kind of model. We need to witness and experience great leadership to know its impact. You can find inspiration in lots of places. Consider your best bosses, those folks who challenged you to do your best work. But also consider teachers, community leaders, and anyone who influenced positive change in you. Study how the person talks to people, how goals are set and how commitments are made. And how commitments are kept. A readiness to learn and grow.
Like many stereotypical MBAs, I left school believing I knew how to run things. It took me about a week to figure out how little I knew. I was quickly overwhelmed and my MBA ego dissolved. That’s when I strapped on the humility bucket and began listening and watching. I noticed how I felt and how I performed when people expected a lot of me versus when they expected little.
Think about your favorite leaders: you’ll likely find them to be curious and eager to learn. Great leaders are ready to be vulnerable; only when we admit to ourselves we don’t know everything do we become open to new ideas, the opinions of others, new approaches, and vastly greater resourcefulness.
A little grit in your teeth. I believe we need to go through some tough times to hone our leadership. We need to fail some and we need to be presented with unexpected circumstances. Through those tough times, we decide what’s important to us and how we want to show up for the world. A willingness to put others’ needs ahead of our own.
The best leaders you’ve ever read about talk about what success means for the team. I love this ideology (attributed to Montague, Harry Truman and John Wooden, among others): “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” When the team knows you care about them and their success, engagement ensues.
Finally, be ready to be yourself, your best self. As a young executive, I’d decided I needed a separate, more serious persona at work. Turns out I was 100%, flat-out wrong. It took a long time but I eventually learned people responded best when I showed up authentically. As Stan Slap said, “What first separates a leader from a normal human being? A leader knows who they are as a human being.”
While studying other good leaders will help a lot, your best leadership will come from identifying your strengths. Strengths are activities (things you do) for which you have some natural ability (not necessarily mastery…yet) which bring you energy. Consider what you do in your life which seems commonplace to you but which other marvel at- if these activities are also energizing, these are your unique strengths and your unique brilliance. Your best performance will show when you are operating in ways in which your passion and energy are flowing.
Focus less on (but don’t ignore) your weaknesses and double down on those areas in which you feel most powerful. How do you get there? This may seem daunting – moving from well-trained manager to inspiring leader. The good news is we have lots of resources. Pick a mentor. Find an executive coach. Learn where your strengths really shine. Volunteer for a tough assignment. Then, show up every day ready to learn from those who follow you.