When you read management blogs and expose yourself to leadership advice, you hear one fact over and over again: Being a “boss” (or a manager) and being a leader are not the same thing. They may both be required of the same person (you), and you may move back and forth between one and the other throughout your career. You may even move between one and the other multiple times in a single day. But the skills and mindset you apply when you shift into manager mode are not the same as the skills and mindset you apply when you’re trying to truly lead.
Here’s how they differ, according to the common wisdom:
A boss tells others what to do. A leader gets into the fray and shows others what to do, setting an example, getting dirty, and working harder than anyone else.
A boss gives instructions. A leader gives people a reason and motivation to follow those instructions.
A leader knows what needs to be done. A boss can show you how to do it.
A leader is a visionary. A boss is a down-to-earth person who knows how to assemble the nuts and bolts of a dreamy plan.
A leader comes up with ideas. A boss delivers or at least gets the team to deliver.
How to Put These Statements into Action
These statements are nice, and they ring with a feeling of empirical truth. But how can you use these pearls of wisdom in your day-to-day work? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
First, determine which role your situation calls for. One role is not inherently more valuable than the other. They both have a place in the working world, even though they aren’t the same. Before you put on one hat or the other, review the situation and your responsibilities and decide which role will better help you—and your team—reach your most pressing goals.
Look outside of yourself. What does your team need right now? Maybe confusion and inefficiency are rampant; your team knows what to do, but not how to do it. Maybe they know exactly what to do, but they lack motivation. Maybe they’re held back by internal disagreements and conflicts. Or maybe they’re simply staring at you, waiting for you to speak, hoping you’ll give direction and dimension to the project in front of them. Which version of you do they need the most?
Once you choose, commit. As soon as you know that your team needs management, not leadership, cast the inspirational visionary aside and pick up the blueprints. Focus on the when, where, what and how. If you hear the call of leadership, put the nuts and bolts away. Open your heart, widen your focus, and become the inspiring light your team needs to see.
For more on how to recognize your role and step into it, turn to the staffing pros at Extension.