Leadership First

Have you ever stopped to think about the real difference between management and leadership? It’s funny how so often we have jobs that are titled “Manager” of this or that, and it’s so far from how we should really be approaching our actual roles each day.

Maybe in the sense of process, it’s okay to be a manager. We can literally manage the steps, the details, the deadlines, and the line items on an excel grid that need to be accomplished to complete a task. If your job is transactional in every way, then go ahead – manage away.

If, however, your role is about relationships and working with others, the game changes. If what you do centers around interacting with people (and let’s be honest – most of us work with tons of people every day), then I challenge you to set down your management stick and pick up your leadership hat to transform how you do what you do. You and your team will thank you for it.

Do you ever find yourself just trying to knock things off your to-do list to get them off your back? Do you get to the office each morning (or worse yet, sit on your couch each night) and power through a load of emails that landed in your inbox in an attempt to get ahead for the day, rather than lag behind? In the essence of time, do you fire off one-line responses that, whether you know it or not, might get taken wildly out of context and come across as cold, rude, abrupt, or even angry with just a few short words? Do you ever find yourself justifying that behavior by saying things like, “Oh, please don’t ever take my emails to heart. I’m usually just pressed for time and trying to get back to you quickly.”

Yep. We’ve all done it, and we may start our day out feeling accomplished and on schedule, but who do we harm along the way? When you’re a true leader, relationships should always be your top priority. Before you sit back down at your desk and reply, take a moment to think about your response. You may want to consider the human element in all that you do. It’s not hand-holding or coddling, it’s being thoughtful and professional. Think about the people who work with you, and how your actions will impact their experience, and their future. Do you want your team to see your willingness to help them grow and learn, or to fear they might upset you and always be watching their backs? Do you want your peers to know you’re a team player who is eager to work together, not in opposition, to accomplish a greater goal? Do you want to show how you’re a thoughtful and strategic partner with a vision for the future growth of your company?

Be the good in what you do, and don’t be known as the one who tackles each day as a reactive and impulsive task-master. Think about the people you work with directly and indirectly, put those relationships first, and you’ll see engagement, development, and productivity skyrocket. Be thoughtful and careful with each word you use (written or spoken), because each individual word counts. You don’t have to take a lot of time to be thoughtful, but you do have to choose your approach wisely. Maybe sometimes it actually means picking up the phone (so old-fashioned, I know!), to embrace the human element and engage in conversation. Your spoken word may land very differently than your written word, no matter how many times you’ve put pen to paper and thought you got it right.

Leaders think about people first, not just process. When leaders elevate others, act respectfully, and put effort into their relationships, the processes falls into place and is the natural next step. It might take more effort, and maybe a little more time, but the ROI is unparalleled. Grow your team, your business, and your future by being a leader, not just a manager, no matter what title is written on your business card.