Leader, boss, follower, collaborator, teammate: these are terms we have heard often during our lifetime. The term leadership is used in many different ways. We hear it in marketing all the time as companies use phrases such as, “We are the leader in XYZ,” or, “We are leading the way.” But this shouldn’t be confused as leadership or as actually being better. In reality, these terms break down to, “We are first,” or, “We are ahead of the others.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better. Think about that the next time you hear it, and how it is being used.
Leadership—or being a leader—is one of the most difficult qualities we can master. Many cannot, or would rather not, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, many of us do very well as followers, collaborators, and teammates. It makes sense; if everyone was a leader, nothing would get done. Think about it.
However, we have all seen the misconceptions. For example, just because someone is a “boss,” it doesn’t make them a “leader.” Yes, they give you tasks, and they answer to the next tier of management. You routinely perform your daily tasks and may not even see this generic “boss” regularly. This could go on for years. But if something goes wrong, we know what goes downhill. The generic “boss” is all over you and your co-workers for what you messed up. In many situations, this generic “boss” is not well-liked.
Now, a leader is a very different person. They are very easy to identify and we see them all the time because they stand out. Why is that? Because a leader takes the time to know their team, looks for the individual strengths and weaknesses of the team, and develops strategies or plans to better the team. The truth is, we seek out leaders because they interact with their team, nurture the strengths of each individual, and—based on abilities—adjust the team for the greater benefit of the whole.
When a true leader is involved, you will usually see smoother-running operations, lower absenteeism, and a higher sense of morale. Leaders strive to develop the skills of their teams, consider each individual’s skill sets, and encourage those skills to grow. Many times, a leader will teach and train their team to levels matching their own. They are not worried about job mortality—rather they consider the overall goal of the team and their success. With strength and depth, the team survives regardless of the loss of an individual or two. The team can adjust and still succeed. A minor imbalance does not put the team in turmoil. That is a leader.
If you work for a leader, you will notice other distinguishing qualities. For example, if something goes wrong—and they do, at times—your leader will be the first line of defense from “upstairs.” Unlike the generic “boss,” your leader will represent you as part of the team. They will keep your issues private, seek to coach you through the problem and resolve to solve the issue together. If the problem was systemic in the department, the leader reviews the causes and seeks to correct it. Another major attribute in strong leadership is a lack of ego; rather, recognition is the reward from others for good leaders and those who embrace this discipline.
Be safe, wear your mask, and be good humans.
This column originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.