Two businessmen shaking hands

Do leaders have the right focus?

by Victor Maciak


Necessary skills to lead an organization

Read time: 4 minutes

In today’s business world, the need for strong leadership is greater than ever. Would you rather be a good leader, or a good manager?

While both are similar (and valuable), I’m willing to bet that most of you would choose to be known as a good leader rather than a good manager. And I would agree. While “leader” sounds better than “manager,” leadership also encompasses a greater number of variables than managing. To put it another way, it’s more than just getting things done well, efficiently and on time. It’s being the person that others follow—the one who sets the direction for everyone else.

What approach works best?

This is not to say that having strong management skills isn’t important, or that effective managers aren’t vital components of a modern organization. In my experience, however, strong leadership qualities are more essential than being an effective manager. That said, most organizations are set up in such a way that rewards strong management skills, rather than leadership. Take performance reviews as an example. Your standard performance review includes an overview of the period of time since your last review (or start date), identifying strengths and weaknesses, a discussion of goals and responsibilities, and setting expectations for the coming year. Pretty standard fare. But then, the “manager” will often work with the employee to create a plan to address their weaknesses and bring that part of their game up to par.

This is the same management mindset that prompts hiring managers to look for reasons why not to proceed with a candidate—a focus on weaknesses, rather than strengths. This sort of approach emphasizes what’s wrong with a worker or job candidate, rather than what their strengths are and what they can bring to an organization. It’s the manager’s approach. Leaders, however, approach things differently.

Leading on Strengths

Let’s go back to that performance review. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that there are five areas where the employee is evaluated, and two where they are deficient in some way. While the manager may focus entirely on improving those two areas, a leader would instead identify their top strengths and find a way to get the most out of those strengths. If you have someone who excels at breaking down data, it doesn’t make sense to put them out on the floor talking to customers and working on communication skills. While those skills are important, and steps should be taken to address major deficiencies, this individual is going to have a lot more success—and your organization will get a lot more value from their work—if they spend the majority of their time working with data.

This is what effective leaders bring to the table—finding what makes somebody unique and valuable, and allowing them to find the role that best suits them. That takes more than being a strong manager. It means effectively communicating and collaborating with employees and keeping them engaged over the long term. After all, you don’t see very many effective leaders whose direct reports are daydreaming about leaving at 5 p.m. Friday, two minutes after they walk in on Monday morning.

This approach does present a couple of challenges that, while important to consider, can be easily addressed with a little bit of foresight. The first is the need for an engaged team. A leader must be able to engage their team members and provide the leadership to let them know where they’re going and the role that they play on the team. Importantly, you have to be able to look for cues when someone is out of sorts—and the ability to put up with a bit of ranting and raving from time to time isn’t a bad idea, either. By understanding your team and their needs, you’ll be best able to identify their unique strengths that set them apart, and harness those skills effectively.

The second challenge is preventing the team from becoming overly specialized. When you put team members in the position that will allow them the best opportunity for success, you risk becoming overly reliant on those specializations, limiting these team members’ ability to contribute elsewhere. To prevent this, it is important to provide workers with variety and opportunities for growth and advancement outside of their strongest skills. Again, strong engagement with your team is helpful here.

Strengths, not weaknesses

Too often, organizations are dominated by managers interested in shoring up weaknesses. Effective organizations, however, have leaders who instead focus on strengths and finding the best use for them. And perhaps that’s why more people would rather be an effective leader than manager—a strong leader brings out the best in you, while a strong manager looks to fix your weaknesses. Both are very important and both are valuable. But between the two, strong leadership helps create a much more engaged team, and eventually, ultimate success for your project and your organization.

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