What’s the difference between a manager and a leader? This is a question I often use for discussion in workshops and it’s one that’s been written about almost endlessly. One difference, simply put, is that leaders pursue the development of their leadership capabilities and managers do not. Managers are content to manage processes, systems, tasks, or projects. Leaders embrace the people-facing “soft skills” they must develop to influence and affect change. More specifically, I think leaders are those who spend energy cultivating 3 things: knowledge, practice, and courage.
Knowledge. Leaders have to know a lot of things to be successful. They have to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They have to know how their style works for them and against them. Leaders need to know how to give feedback, negotiate, communicate, cheerlead, and challenge. The list of “skills” leaders use and work to develop over the course of their careers is different for every leader but lengthy across the board. Successful leaders recognize this and are constantly in pursuit of insights and information that will further broaden their skill set and level of aptitude.
Practice. I was tempted to say instead “Experience” but there is an intentionality in the word “practice” that I believe truly sets leaders apart. It’s not enough to have just lived through something. Those that push and try and fail and then analyze with the purpose of learning and growing are the kinds of leaders that truly excel. In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell summarizes the research that suggests it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. How long does it take a healthcare manager working 40 hours a week to reach 10,000 hours? Just over 5 years. If you push yourself to get better at something over the course of 5 years, do you think you’ll improve? Count on it.
Courage. This is the X factor. A few months ago Peter Bregman wrote this terrific article on leadership courage. In short, you can have all the skills and knowledge in the world, but if you aren’t willing to speak up and live in the discomfort of someone else’s anger without shutting off or becoming defensive, then it’s impossible to lead. Those that are thick skinned enough to press on or confident enough to say what needs to be said in an appropriate, respectful way demonstrate the emotional courage necessary for success in any leadership role.
Now it’s your turn! What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments box below! ~Joe