CIPD Blog: Can great managers be great leaders? 

One feels leaders and managers are synonymous, while the other suggests they are poles apart. With over 30 years’ experience in HR in the public and private sector Graham White has worked for more than 15 chief executives and five times that number of executive directors. He has seen leaders ranging from the insipid to the inspiring, the challenging to the chilling, and the iconic to the esoteric.

He says ‘My experience has been that each of them sets out with the passion, vision and energy of a zealot but all too quickly integrity and social justice is sacrificed by some on the altar of short-termism, ego and corporate self-interest. While good managers can have long tenure, theirs is a career devoid of the thrill and satisfaction of a lifetime of leadership that inspires organisational success.’

Graham has listed the following 10 characteristics:

1. Leaders begin with a determination to finish and to finish well

I am yet to meet a great leader who achieved their success by accident. Instead, they determined from the very beginning that no matter what happened they would complete the job. They pushed themselves to deliver the very best.

2. A leader’s vision is always bigger than their self-belief

Unlike good managers, leaders do not settle for the status quo. Their vision is so big it fills the whole working day. Their task and how it must be achieved matters too much to ever let it be forgotten or ignored when they are around.

3. A leader is defined by their integrity

There comes a critical moment in every potential leaders life when they have to make that defining choice and decide either to do what is right or do what is easy. Many I have witnessed took the easy choice and having done it once it sadly becomes the natural choice forever.

4. A leader always says thank you

The reasons staff stay with an organisation are many and varied, however the reasons for leaving fall into a much smaller group, and one of the biggest known reasons for leaving is because their manager never recognised their contribution. Leaders never forget.

5. A leader invests in their workforce

They work hard at their own career development but not at the expense of their team or workforce. Their relationship with their senior colleagues and their teams is grounded on a ‘commitment to develop’ that goes very wide and very deep into their organisation. They set out with the pre-determined view that nothing they gain through their own efforts is worth more than the outcome of their team.

6. A leader treats people well

To put it simply, leaders are nice to be around. Their respect for others including those who disagree with them is evident to any who take time to observe. They are seldom rude or impatient. They have track records of strong, healthy relationships.

7. A leader shares the workload thoughtfully

Unlike good managers, leaders delegate well to ensure their focus is on leading through influence and implanting vision. However, sharing the workload is not the off-loading of activity like many managers do but rather a sharing of the work experience.

8. A leader faces up to discouragement not down

Everyone gets discouraged at times and leaders are no different. The real difference I have experienced is leaders rarely allow themselves the luxury of wallowing in their despair. They dealt with discouragement before it consumed them. They accepted mistakes got made but were not the end of the story.

9. A leader has genuine confidants

I have always believed that leaders need to be different but not indifferent, and as such the role can be lonely. Many of the leaders I have had the privilege to work with have had a small but important group of close business friends. This delivers the support system they need. Regardless of what leadership challenges they face, leaders know they are not alone.

10. A leader has the ability to laugh

While many of the leaders I have worked with have been tough, they have also been able to laugh. In spite of remaining deadly serious about delivering success they also manage to not take themselves too seriously. Putting colleagues and teams at ease through laughter has not compromised their goal of delivering great teams and excellent services.

Engage for Success do not own this article.

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