We are all Leaders!

I have heard this platitude, and numerous others, bandied about the workplace in half-hearted attempts to motivate people and raise morale. As I have acknowledged already, management and leadership are easily confused with one another. In this essay I will explore some of these misunderstandings.

Merriam-Webster (n.d.) defines leader as “a person exercising authority or influence.” From there we can infer that if a person is exercising authority or influence than there must be others operating under that authority or influence. We can call those operating under authority employees and those under influence followers. This will not be true in every case, but it makes for a good shorthand description of the context.

One problem I see in labeling people leaders is that the label is far too widely applied. Calling everyone a leader is prima facie absurd in the context of an organization. One might argue that everyone is a leader is some context; but this does not allow us to understand how organizations or communities work. In the context of a community it might be a truer statement, however our interest is in individuals who can accomplish specific goals working through others.

William Deresiewicz (2014), a writer and critic, wrote about the perils of attending Ivy League and other elite schools. This passage piqued my interest:

But what these institutions mean by leadership is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm or becoming a chief executive, climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to.

Titles, prestige, and high salary do not make a leader. Senior executives are managers. Nor is leadership a question of knowledge and faculty; superlative managers are still managers.

Good managers are essential to every organization. However, it is important to point out that managers uphold the status quo. A manager’s power precedes from their office and title; it is typically formalized in the culture, rules and regulations of the organization a manager serves; and, a manager’s power is the power to sanction, both positively and negatively. A leader’s power precedes from somewhere else: knowledge, skill, charisma, or something else. A leader signals change.

I think that leader, as a term, is seen as a more positive word than manager. As I have mentioned previously, there is overlap; people can be both leaders and managers. However, misunderstanding the difference between a leader and a manager can cause problems. If people wish to accomplish specific goals working through others, it is imperative that they understand whether they are leading or managing. I will discuss the reasons for this in the next post.

References

Deresiewicz, W. (July 22, 2014). Don’t send your kid to the ivy league: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies. New Republic Magazine. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/118747/ivy-league-schools-are-overrated-send-your-kids-elsewhere

Leader. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leader

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