Steer the Boat or Chart the Course?

Leadership vs management

Many people confuse management with leadership.

This is especially true of managers who believe successfully completing a task or mission is the essence of leadership. Accordingly, many managers believe they are good leaders. Yet, they are mistaken. Leadership and management involve different mindsets and skills.

While many people with grand titles claim to be leaders, they are really, at best, just decent managers. Choose to be a leader and you will be one. You will not need a title or a degree.

Managers care about titles. Leaders care about people.

Managers care about titles. Leaders care about people.

Steering, or Navigation?

Want to know a simple way to determine the difference between a leader and a manager? Managers steer the boat. Leaders chart the course. Managers may get the boat to the right pier at the right time, but leaders choose the best route, the optimal weather and consider passenger and crew comfort and safety, beyond what the checklists say they must do.

The world needs managers; lots of them. However, we grow with leaders.

Strive to be a better leader.

Here is the neat thing about leadership. If you want to be one, you can … sort of. The hallmark of a leader is knowing he or she is never done. You never reach a point where you stop learning and improving.

No one who claims to be a leader can do so without immediately admitting his or her shortcomings, at least admitting them to his or her self. A crucial part of leadership is knowing you do not have all the answers. Managers often think they do.

Integral Traits

I wrote the observations below for my sons, from many years of trial and error, so that they may be better leaders. I hope you might benefit as well. There are many things to consider, but here are four of the most important.

  1. Do not fall for the trap that your title matters.
    You may get to sit at the head of the table if you have the best title, but that does not make you a leader. People follow leaders because they believe in them, not because their titles command it. Consider the military. Soldiers will die for a good leader. It is not the brilliant, well-thought-out plan that compels ultimate devotion. Nor is it the rank. It is the respect one has for the person behind the title. Leaders inspire. Managers command.
  2. If you think you are in charge, you are a fool.
    You never get to the top. There will always be someone above you. We may have people who report to us, but we are never the ultimate authority. The president of the United States is beholden to voters and to two other branches of government. CEOs have their boards, and just about any leader has someone else to please, including those he or she leads. Always do the best where you are. Do not aspire to the illusion of a grand finale, or ultimate position of authority. Aim to be better by the moment, and you will be a better leader forever. Leaders respect their position. Managers ask others to respect theirs.
  3. See everything through the eyes of your team.
    It is tempting to think the team should see things as you see them, but this rarely happens. Instead, a leader looks for what motivates his team members and concentrates on that. It takes patience. It takes practice, but the investment is worth it. Who would not want you to look out for his or her best interest? People will believe in you if you invest in them. Leaders walk in the shoes of those they lead. Managers count the shoes in inventory.
  4. Good deeds do not always produce good results.
    As a young supervisor at Busch Gardens, I wanted to reward my hard-working team on the Congo River Rapids. At the end of the day, I saw a cast member at the popcorn concession about to throw away a barrel of popcorn. I asked if I could have it. She helped me fill one of our empty water coolers and I was about to share the bounty with my team. A food service supervisor walked up and immediately threw it all away. I learned restaurants do this because some employees will save food rather than sell it. Throwing away good food discourages theft. That night there happened to be a big corporate party and details of my adventure made it to the top managers. I was famous. My supervisor apologized to me, but he did discipline me. Leaders can get in trouble even when doing a good thing. However, always look for opportunities to let your team know you care. People will help us when we first care for them. Leaders encourage. Managers maintain.

If you want others to recognize you as a leader, act like one now. Inspire. Care. Encourage. Empathize. Do all things leaders do. 

If you want others to recognize you as a leader, act like one now. Inspire. Care. Encourage. Empathize.

Leadership vs management

No one promotes someone hoping he or she will be turn out to be a good leader. They only promote people who are already demonstrating they have what it takes. Take the small steps each day and you will find yourself being the leader you are meant to be.

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