The Meaning of Leadership

The difference between great managers and true leaders is vast but do you truly know the difference? What makes a leader? While much has been written, discussed and debated in response to this thorny question, there is no clear consensus on the answer. Yet the meaning of leadership remains the single most important challenge facing any organisation.

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By  Alex Andarakis Published  December 10, 2006

|~||~||~|The difference between great managers and true leaders is vast but do you truly know the difference? What makes a leader? While much has been written, discussed and debated in response to this thorny question, there is no clear consensus on the answer. Yet the meaning of leadership remains the single most important challenge facing any organisation. Strong and successful companies understand that leadership is not the exclusive domain of the chief executive or board of directors. Rather, leadership is a key requirement across all levels within an organisation. There is, however, a key distinction that must be made between ‘leadership' and ‘management': Management is focused on skills and competencies, while leadership focuses on inspiration and meaning. Strong companies understand the difference between the two – and thus foster the development of high-potential individuals and teams. Make no mistake, leadership is about both results and meaning. Without this powerful combination, whatever the short-term results, medium to long-term sustainability will be compromised. The role of leaders is to constantly, and with large amounts of passion, communicate and raise the profile of ‘meaning', articulating it in a manner that is easily understood and wholly relevant. Leaders inspire the imagination of a community of followers and believers. Leaders provide their teams and the individuals within them with the strength and motivation to create and maintain momentum throughout the journey of achieving the company’s vision, strategy and targets. Recently, I attended a leadership forum at London Business School, where these concepts were at the heart of the messaging objectives of the faculty. The lesson in London was that leadership requires authenticity – in terms of both results and meaning – that is perceived and felt by followers and believers. As they strive to inspire and retain staff, today’s leaders face special challenges. We are increasingly impatient to achieve success: See how the traditional career of 47 hours a week, 47 weeks a year, for 47 years has been replaced by young professionals who put in 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 17 years. We are increasingly disconnected from any sense of community: Look at the breakdown of families and the disappearance of social clubs and associations. Finally, we are increasingly distrustful of authority: From Enron to WorldCom to Parmalat to Tyco, corporate scandal has slowly eroded trust. In the face of these challenges, leaders must drive significance, community, authenticity and trust. They must capture the hearts and minds of their staff – who invest a significant amount of their life in an organisation, often at a great cost to their personal and family ties. This is the challenge of leadership. The next time you’re sitting in a business class lounge, study the faces of the many gifted individuals around you, wearied from an endless tour of duty for their employers. Try to understand that they are. They are more than just people being paid to do a job; they are individuals with families, friends, hopes and fears; all trying to understand how and what they do will make a difference to others in their community. Much has been said about the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR. But while many organisations have done a tremendous job in giving some of their acquired riches back to society such as the Microsoft's of this world, this should not come at the expense of the fair and equitable distribution of corporate employee responsibility. Valuing the emotional dimension – and forging an emotional connection – is the key difference between good leaders and great leaders. When you have won the hearts and minds of your team, you have reached the tipping point, creating the space to achieve exceptional performance. You now better understand the organisation and the marketplace, allowing you to foster change and take action. Most of all, you can make a difference in your own community. For leaders, then, understanding oneself is of paramount importance. If self-knowledge is absent, how can you imagine that you will ever understand your organisation, community or even customers? Take this simple test. Ask each one of your employees to describe for you the purpose, values and vision of the organisation you lead. If the large majority know the answers, then you are a true leader. If not, ask yourself two simple questions: Am I a leader or a manager? And do I truly understand the difference between the two? - Alex Andarakis is CEO of drinks giant Aujan.||**||

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