We’ve got leaders. What we need is leadership.

  |   Leadership Print Friendly and PDF

D. H. Lawrence wrote a marvelous short story called “The Rocking Horse Winner.” In it, a young boy rode his rocking horse to try to bring good fortune to his family. As he rode the voices in his head kept chanting, “There must be more money! There must be more money!”

Evidently those same voices chant in a lot of pundit heads. “We must have more leaders! We must have more leaders!”

Nonsense. Leaders we have in abundance. What we need is good leadership.

Pick up the dictionary and look up “leader.” What will you find as a definition? It will probably be something like this: “leader: one who leads.”

You can define leaders by what they do. They’re not defined by traits, or magic tricks, or what kind of shoes or watches they wear.

There’s another definition you might see. “Leader: one who has followers.”

If you are responsible for the performance of a group you are leader, because you have followers. You can lead well, or you can lead poorly, but lead you do. You will also manage. You will supervise. The question is, “How well?”

Leadership, management, and supervision are all kinds of work and you must do them all. Here are the differences between them.

Leadership work involves purpose and direction and culture. You decide which direction the ship is going. You explain why the work of the team is important. You communicate and set the example that defines culture.

You do other kinds of work, too.  Management work involves groups and priorities. If you are drawing up the vacation schedule, that’s management work. It isn’t any more or less noble than leadership work. It has to be done, and done well.

What about supervision? That’s the forgotten function much of the time. Supervision work involves individuals and task performance. When you help a team member improve his or her performance on a task, you are doing supervision work.

If you’re responsible for a group, you do all three kinds of work, sometimes two or three at the same time. No one kind of work is more important.

The mix changes as you move up the organization chart. If you’re a first-line supervisor, you’re going to do relatively more supervision and management and less leadership. It’s the nature of the size group and the scope of your mission.

Move into middle management and the management components get a little bigger. So does the leadership component. The supervision component falls off a bit. But even if you’re the CEO in a giant corporation, you still are going to be doing supervision, as well as leadership and management.

Don’t be misled by all the jargon and the hype. If you’re responsible for a group, you’ve got to do leadership, you’ve got to do management, and you’ve got to do supervision. Don’t worry about what you are, pay attention to what you’re doing and what your group is doing, and you’ll be on the road to success.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Your challenge is to accomplish the mission and care for your people. That will only happen if you do leadership work, management work, and supervision work. Ignore any one of them at your peril. Remember: it’s not about you.

This post also appears on The Management Experts.

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