One either believes in leadership or they do not. You might doubt that there are people who don't believe in leadership but, in fact, there may be more of them than there are people who believe that strong leadership is critical to high performance.
You may have encountered someone who was unhappy with other people's results and suggested that an individual or the team is to blame. An individual or a team may fail, but the responsible party is the individual or team's leader.
When a person complains about poor results, you can be certain they don’t believe in leadership. Often, the person may have a title that suggests they are a leader, even though they are actually something less, like a manager.
A few years ago, I listened to a senior leader report their company's results on CNBC. The person interviewing them asked why they missed their numbers, and the leader said they failed because their sales force didn't deliver on their targets. It didn't take long for a number of salespeople to email me, furious that their senior leader threw them under the bus.
I was stunned that a senior leader would indict their sales force. This company has a number of levels of sales managers and sales leaders that were responsible for ensuring their teams had everything they needed to hit their targets. How could this senior leader not recognize that the responsibility for sales targets belongs to senior sales leaders first, and then to the sales managers?
A better, more mature, leader would have taken the blame for the miss. Leaders take responsibility for failures and credit their teams when they hit or exceed their goals. In that moment, the leader on CNBC didn't believe in leadership. The company's miss was not inevitable, but meeting the targets would have required leaders to act sooner.
Management Is Not Leadership
One can be a manager without being a leader. A leader may have job duties that are managerial but they also do much more. Here are some signs that a manager is not a true leader:
- The manager does little more than pass along information and take reports from their people, even if they are required to do those tasks.
- The person lacks strong direction and accountability. Allowing individuals and teams to do what they want, when they want, and how they want, is not leadership.
- A person is responsible for a team, but doesn't develop their people. Leaders lead, but they also build leaders.
- A manager that doesn't have a strong vision for their team and their future results is not a leader.
Leadership Is the Critical Variable
General Winfield Scott. General George B. McClellan. Henry W. Halleck. General Ulysses S. Grant. These are the names of the generals that served President Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. The first three generals did not do very well, which is why they were replaced. Lincoln eventually put Grant in charge of winning the war.
All four generals served the same president, eliminating that as a variable. Each of them was faced with fighting the same enemy army, so we can remove that variable. Every one of the generals on the Union side had the same men, same horses, and same terrain, proving that nothing significant had changed, save one thing: the leader.
Grant used his army as an extension of his will. His strong leadership allowed him to win the war, and likely faster than it would have had a less aggressive leader been in charge.
You don't need to go back to the 1800s to find evidence that leadership is the critical variable in results. You can see it in every company where managers recognize their role as a leadership role. You can also see this variable in different individuals and their overall results.
On Strong Leadership
Strong leadership doesn't mean leaders are abusive autocrats. Strong leadership means having a vision of the future and enrolling other people in sharing it. It also means providing clear direction on how each person must contribute to the vision. Finally, leadership is marked by setting high standards for a high-performing team.
Strong leaders know the people on their team well enough to know when and why one of them needs additional help and when to challenge them.
They are also available to the people on their team, avoiding being invisible, meaning someone who spends more time working in the business than with their teams. Strong leaders don't allow the individuals on their team to fail; they intervene in time to help their team members make the adjustments they need to succeed.
Effective leaders recognize that they don't achieve their goals and their vision without their team. This awareness is what allows good leaders to ensure their team members have what they need to be successful in their roles, including in supporting the leader.
The Team that Succeeds
It's rare that you ever see a high-performing team without an equally high-performing leader. It's more likely that the high-performing team is a reflection of its leader. And, if you believe that is true, you must also believe that a poor-performing team is also a reflection of its leader.
The leader is responsible for their team. The idea that an individual or a team can fail without the leader being to blame is false. If a change is necessary, the leader is charged with making it.