What is the difference between a manager and a leader?
I believe that true leaders are inspirational. Leaders are also not always necessarily managers. You can lead in many walks of life – whether in a business setting, a family or a friendship circle. Inspirational leadership can be demonstrated by a team member who exerts a positive influence over his or her colleagues.
I once had a boss who radiated inspirational leadership by showing dedication and commitment. Not only to his role but to his team. He challenged us to be the best we could be and gave us plenty of freedom to achieve our objectives however we saw fit.
In stark contrast, I once worked for a boss that came in late, left early and shared none of the workloads even when her team was overloaded. She actually used to say “Why have a dog and bark yourself?”. I eventually left the organisation, in large measure due to the way she managed the team.
What is different about inspirational leadership?
1. They have a vision – their focus is wide, ‘big picture’ orientated and strategic
Google is renowned for its innovative management methods. They have a set of rules -“Google’s Rules – 8 Good Behaviours” (As quoted in this article) and this is a rule no. 7 :
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
- Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy
- Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it
None of the above is possible if a manager gets bogged down in minute details rather than maintaining a ‘big picture’ view.
2. Empowerment – coaching, training, support
In his article entitled “Inspirational Leadership: How Top Leaders Inspire Teams to Greatness“, James H. Killian, PhD cites Dr Stephen Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’:
Covey used to say that with people ‘slow is fast and fast is slow.’ Which is so counter to the fundamental paradox that exists within leaders. In order to be successful most need to stop doing the very things that got them into a position of leadership in the first place. Giving colleagues and direct reports more time to contribute may seem like a slower process, but it ultimately creates a culture of team, performance, and accountability. With a leader so eager to let others contribute, but still keeping an eye on results, instills a sense of trust and respect. But it is the two sides of this equation that must be equally leveraged. Inspiring others and holding them accountable for results.
You can read the full article here: Inspirational leaders provide their teams with the required coaching, training, and support to enable them to make their own decisions, achieve their objectives and learn along the way so they can keep on improving and become the inspirational leaders of the future.
3. Responsibility, Accountability & Trust
In the extract above, Covey, quoted by Killian, mentions that empowering teams instils a sense of trust and respect and that this also means holding others accountable for their results.
Being held accountable, having responsibility and being trusted with important tasks and decisions is scary, but ultimately the only way to learn and grow. Without accountability, being given responsibility is mere window-dressing.
4. Communicate and embody purpose & vision
Inspirational leaders do more than ‘talk the talk’; and they ‘walk the walk’, too. They embody their purpose and vision. Also, lead by example. And they communicate their vision and purpose to the people they lead. If you don’t know and understand your leader’s purpose, how can you follow that leader and help them achieve their vision?
5. Make time – listen
According to Forbes.com 85% of what we learn, we learn through listening. In order to be an inspirational leader, therefore, it is of paramount importance to listen in order to keep learning. But even more importantly, employees who know their ideas, suggestions, and concerns will be listened to feel more valued and are more likely to give 100% to the business.
Taking this outside the business context for a moment, think about the people in your life that you care about: your friends and family. How do you feel if you don’t think they’re listening to you? How do you feel when you know they are listening? Whether we’re at work or at play, we are human beings and our emotive state has a huge impact on our performance. By listening, inspirational leaders make their reports and colleagues feel valued.
6. Take blame & give credit
Inspirational leaders give credit where it is due and recognise that their achievements are rarely theirs alone. Their achievements are due at least as much to the efforts of the teams and individuals they lead as they are to their own leadership qualities. Equally, when things go wrong, it is rarely down to just one individual or team. Truly inspirational leaders will look at their own responsibilities in events that went wrong and won’t be afraid to shoulder the blame. Leadership can bring many rewards, but inspirational leaders are also prepared to carry the risks and burdens that their position entails.
7. Innovate/think outside the box
Innovation – technological and ideological – is essential to progress. Inspirational leaders understand this and are prone to ‘thinking outside the box‘ as well as encouraging creative and innovative thinking amongst those they lead. Look at Richard Branson, for example, but also Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King. All thought/think differently than everyone around them. They go against the grain. Badged as thought leaders that take action and inspire others to help them achieve their vision.
Inspirational leadership is essential to business success. As Greg Savage points out in his article “People don’t leave Companies, they leave Leaders’ when employees leave it’s not “the company” they blame. It’s not the location, or the team, or the database or the air-conditioning. It’s the leadership!
If you don’t inspire your teams to achieve greatness, you’re not a leader. You’re a manager, at best.