Leadership skills seem to come effortlessly to some people while others seem to believe that the carrot and stick approach, with the emphasis on the stick, is the best way to manage and lead a team/company/country. The latter approach rarely works in the long term as some decidedly sticky ends in several Arab states demonstrated last year. In terms of business leadership the development of strong and effective leadership skills is, perhaps, more important than ever in the current interesting economic environment.
Businesses have always required strong leadership and competent management but it can be easy to confuse the roles of both leaders and managers. While it is true that there are some areas in which the two functions overlap there are also important differences. Leadership development strategies should focus on these similarities and also on other, ‘micro’ leadership roles.
Leadership or management?
Leadership, although very much a self-explanatory word, can be easily mistaken for management. To make matters more complex there are a number of different aspects to leadership. At a high level within your firm, executives and senior management do (or should) provide overall strategic leadership. Defining not only company goals and targets, but ethos and clear direction; at a completely different level leadership skills can be required in any team or section of a company and leadership skills can surface in surprising places. Management should provide day to day leadership, inspiration and motivation, but their primary focus is on ‘over-seeing’ and delivering leadership messages and goals, often in a more hands on manner. Within individual teams, working on specific projects, a team member may well also provide an important leadership role in the immediate task in hand.
Different Leadership requirements
At an executive level, strong leadership has always been essential and cannot be underestimated in today’s business climate. A clear direction and focus for any organisation creates an environment that is clear on its priorities at all levels. The best leaders, lead by example not by sound bites, and in days where pay freezes and even wage cuts are necessary, leadership at an executive level is often required to lead by example in this field. Those with strong, existing leadership qualities intrinsically understand this and have a natural open, honest approach which is essential for building trust at all levels within a firm.
The strongest element of leadership within management is often about listening, understanding and facilitating needs within their own team, while balancing these with broader strategic aims and objectives of the company. At both levels the ability to listen is necessary, but this element of leadership is often a key part of the management role. At a micro-level, within teams, leadership skills should be developed depending on personality and on specific projects. Those with relevant skills can be encouraged to take lead positions within a team. This type of leadership can be the hardest, as it comes without ‘quantifiable’ authority and yet can be crucial to success of specific projects.
Development at all Levels
Leadership development training, evaluation and monitoring is crucial for all firms and organisations. Those sticky Middle Eastern ends (perhaps a long time coming) were extreme examples of just how badly wrong things can go when poor leadership is practiced over a period of time. Whole countries take a considerable time to implode, but businesses, especially the smaller kind, can be susceptible to the effects of poor leadership, at all levels, very quickly. With economic hoops of varying heights to jump it pays dividends to ensure that your team and your key leaders, across and throughout your organisation, are not only fully trained but have the benefit of leadership training that encourages and reinforces their potential leadership skills. Leadership development has always played an important role but today it can be one of the most significant contributing factors in success and business survival.
This is a guest post. Leadership development should be part of an ongoing process of training and development at all levels in any organisation. From executive roles, through to management and ‘micro’ leadership, strong leadership can help companies to thrive.