Where it all began!
I’ve been a trainer since 1984 when I first set foot in a classroom as part of my week long work experience session through the school. It was not my first choice. I had been told to get experience in an office but none was available. The school found me this placement as a last minute replacement and I spent a week as a classroom assistant. I was 16 years old and I was helping 5 year olds do their times table. I don’t remember enjoying the week very much. The careers officer said I was destined to be a secretary. All good Grammar School girls would be secretaries, but they didn’t need to type because computers were coming in (it was the early 80s) and no-one would need to type! Who was I to argue with them? I was disappointed and actually thought, at that time, that a classroom assistant’s role was very easy and not something that I should aspire to! Even back then the universe knew where it wanted me and placed me in a school.
Then in 1989, I became a Scout Leader and that’s when I realised the path I should be on.
Since then I’ve made it my purpose to continually develop my skills and knowledge to stay fresh in whatever field I was working in – literally, as a Scout leader, in a field on camp, I was the leader, the cook, the first aider, the surrogate mum, the logistics officer, the activity advisor, the pot washer and the tyrant that put everyone to bed at a decent hour. And I Loved Every Minute of It.
Learning the ropes.
These great experiences stood me in good stead when the time came to move from training in the voluntary sector to training in the commercial sector. I still maintain that the only difference between the two is that commercially I got paid. I rose quickly to management level within the training companies, eagerly soaking up any training. Working for a company who delivered apprenticeships, I attained firstly my Assessor Award and then my Verifier Award. I specialised in Office Skills: Business Administration and Customer Service, Sales & Telesales but very quickly I completed my own Management NVQ and went on to train others in this field.
The first mandatory unit in the Management Level 5 NVQ was all about the difference between Leadership and Management. This unit absolutely captivated me. There are hundreds of books and research papers available that explain the difference, yet still it is not widely understood. I have known many managers who thought they were leaders (they were mistaken) and many leaders who found it very difficult to comprehend how they achieved that status!
Examining the Difference.
So how did I explain this to my students? How did I get this crucial difference to be recognised in the workplace?
I did it by asking them to write me a short piece about someone that inspired them. I told them that the person did not have to be famous, it could be someone in their family. I allowed them to tell me about a sport star that left an impact on them, an actor, a politician, a work colleague, a teacher. The choice was theirs but I wanted to know who inspired them and why.
I had students telling me about their parents who worked long hours to earn the money to feed and clothe the family. Who made the money stretch to the end of the month without a money lender or going overdrawn. Parents who created fun activities in the long summer holidays without spending money and of holidays on the UK coast, eating fish and chips and dancing in the rain.
I had some students telling me about Football managers and why they were so great – how many trophies the club had won, how much money they’d spent on an international player to make them top of the league.
And I had some talking about past politicians, who had left an indelible mark on their childhood through the decisions that had been made.
So then I asked what the common themes were and here’s what they told me.
Good Leaders, like those who chose to tell me about their parents, show the way to do things. They roll their sleeves up and they get on with it. They provide a good solid role model for their children and others to follow. They create experiences that create memories that make the children smile. They make mistakes and they learn from them and do things a little bit differently next time.
Effective Leaders, like those who chose to tell me about some politicians, choose one course of action and follow it through. They don’t flip-flop around bowing to the current trend of opinion. They state their own opinion and they follow it through – Social history then determines if they were right or not, depending on the outcome. And never forget that history is always written by the victors in the conflict, so it is hardly impartial.
Leaders have charisma – that undefinable something that catches your attention and makes them irresistible and utterly believable. Charismatic leaders, like Adolf Hitler, promised a post 1st World War population that he would bring back jobs for the people, that he would restore order. He said what the population needed to hear and so they voted him in, they didn’t care how he achieved his promises, they just believed that he would. And it was only in the cold light of day as events unfurled that others began to questions his methods and took a stand against him. I do not agree with what Hitler did, but I am fascinated as to how he got so many to follow him slavishly so quickly.
Leaders speak with authority and from the heart. Now let’s look at the Dalai Lama. A man of peace and meditation. A man who has millions of followers that he’s never met, nor is he ever likely to meet. His words resonate with people and they find that his mantra for life is one they can follow.
Leaders are often big picture dreamers and need a team around them to make their dreams become a reality. Would you say Richard Branson is a leader? What about heads of state? The Pope? What about Steve Jobs? All of these high profile people are (or were) undeniably leaders but they built a team of people around them to implement their ideas. And that’s great – because not everyone wants to be a leader, or has the capacity to be a leader.
The key feedback from my students though was that each of them perceived the leaders from their own experience. Their judgement was formed from what they’d read on social media, what they’d seen and heard on the media and what their immediate environment said about that person. This is best demonstrated by asking if you are a Barack Obama fan or a Donald Trump fan in the US. You will have your own reasons for your selection.
Most recently in the UK, we have had a leadership battle within the Conservative party, Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Hunt. It was a highly televised battle that could only be voted on by members of the Conservative party. On 23rd July, 2019 at Midday, Boris Johnson was proclaimed the winner of this battle. The general population had a lot to say about this battle, even though their views were unlikely to be taken into account (unless they were a member of the Conservative party). Social media especially was awash with opinions, viewpoints, past pictures and anecdotes for and against both parties. From the point of his appointment, Boris Johnson will lay out his methods of leadership and once again, social history will decide in the fullness of time how he performed.
What has history told us.
Some of my students went right back in time to look at well known historical leadership figures. They discovered that leaders can spring from anywhere. They don’t have to hold positions of power. Some leaders in history have been outraged at their surroundings and have done something about it. People like Florence Nightingale, Emmalene Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela & FW de Clerk who jointly won the Nobel Peace prize in 1993.
Others have been forged in the heat of battle, or just when their heart tells them ENOUGH. The student uprising in Beijing in 1989 that led to the man who stood in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square and stopped the march of the tanks that were ruthless and indiscriminately killing anyone who was around is another example. I’m sure that he didn’t set out that morning to make a stand – he’d still got his shopping with him. It was a spur of the moment thing.
Leaders have qualities about them that their followers find irresistible and their detractors find abhorrent. Leaders can forge change easily because the will of their followers is with them. The voice of the detractors is small against the leader in the start, but sometimes those voices swell and grow until the detractors have found a critical mass and now one of their number becomes the Leader.
The world needs leaders.
But what of managers?
Managers work with guidelines, rules and processes. They understand exactly what they and everyone around them has to do and they ensure that everyone does exactly that. Managers will hit or even exceed targets, which is great for a business. Managers will understand the numbers: the Key Performance Indicators, the budgets, the production outputs, the profit margins. Managers know how to manipulate the numbers to get the best performance and managers issue instructions to their staff.
My students felt that managers could be inflexible and had little or no autonomy to make a decision outside of the framework set for them.
I’ve been a training manager. I think my students are correct. I had a very specific set of guidelines, targets and outcomes to achieve on a monthly and annual basis. I had some flexibility in the programme, to change courses, to find different consultants but I was still constrained by the company’s overarching ethos and goals. I spent a lot of my time poring over the budgets to work out how to save money here and there. It certainly stifled creativity and I didn’t feel that I was leading my team effectively. It was only when I stepped outside of the guidelines and conventions and started really valuing the staff I had around me that my leadership qualities blossomed – and so did the team.
Managers are really important in many walks of life to keep the status quo. To ensure that there are checks and balances when charismatic leaders start going down a path that is not deemed acceptable. To keep an eye on the detail. To ensure that the leadership dream is carried out.
In Conclusion then…
Leaders need Managers and Managers need Leaders but don’t muddle them up because they are very different animals.
In your career there will be times when you are a leader and times when you are a manager. That is perfect for professional development. Your skill at switching between the two will determine whether you will be remembered as an effective leader in the role, or not.
Some job roles out there have Leader in the title – if you are looking for a new challenge, a new role, check out the job description carefully. Is the company really looking for a leader or do they want a manager with a fancy title?
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Thank you for your time. I do appreciate you.