Leadership is arguably the most important quality to have in a senior management team. Whether it’s a multinational corporation, or a small business with only a handful of senior employees, leadership is what drives the business. It shapes the future, it empowers employees to do better, and it makes an organisation what it is. However, leadership doesn’t necessarily have to be confined to the most important people within a business. It’s actually something that can be beneficial at all levels; from the top, right down to new employees that are straight out of education. In this article, we’re going to have a look at why this is, by looking at the different qualities great leaders can bring.
This is one of the big questions that often confuses people, but it’s really important to be aware of the differences between leaders and managers before we continue. Conflate the two in practice, and an organisation won’t have the right balance of qualities.
Managers are primarily present in a business to ensure the smooth running of everything. They’re there to make sure that targets are hit, that employees are doing what they’re supposed to, and that everything within the business runs smoothly. They may need creativity and forward thinking in order to achieve this successfully, but generally these qualities are not core to their role.
Leaders on the other hand are less concerned with the day-to-day adherence to company policy and process. They’re present in a business to be an inspiration to others, guide them, develop company culture, and drive the direction of the business from a top level. Business leaders may be the ones to direct the company in a new direction, and then it would be down to managers below them to implement this idea.
This isn’t to say that there won’t sometimes be overlap, and indeed this article will explain why leadership skills can be beneficial even for managers, but as a general rule the above is true.
Creativity is often seen as a nebulous buzzword that gets thrown into CVs but has little tangible meaning when it comes to a job role. However, it’s very important as a leadership quality, and this runs throughout an entire business. Creativity is often the driving force behind successful change and adaptation. Leaders see new ways of doing things, interesting ways of doing them, and then those ideas get implemented across the organisation. If we think of great business leaders, we also associate them with big changes they made to the company they joined, or big new ideas that they implemented. It’s this that makes them so valuable.
However, the benefits of creativity and thinking of new ways of doing things can be felt at all levels of an organisation. While a senior company leader might have big ideas that change the direction of a company, departmental managers could also exhibit leadership and take it upon themselves to change the direction of the area of the business they’re responsible for, and leaders truly will take responsibility for this. If they’ve got a creative, workable idea, they’ll implement it and bring everyone below them on board. They’ll accept responsibility even when this doesn’t work. Managers can do this too, and it needs to be remembered as a compliment to their usual role of sticking to the rules and making sure process is followed.
This type of free thinking can even extend to entry-level roles. Creativity goes hand-in-hand with being able to see the bigger picture and discovering better ways of working. Future leaders will often start at entry-level, and then showcase their abilities by helping to drive change - not just in their own working space, but for the organisation as a whole.
This is one of the other major qualities that makes for a truly great leader, and while it’s certainly important at the top, it’s truly valuable all the way down. It’s easy to see how inspiring senior leaders can be of significant benefit. If we think of iconic modern executives for global brands, they truly encourage their workforce to work better.
Elon Musk, despite being someone who splits opinion, and appears in the news almost equally for good and bad reasons, is certainly an example of this. His radical ideas and free thinking are an inspiration to many who work for him; driving them to do better too. His innovation drives his managers and other employees to innovate, too.
Leading by example can be more effective than simply telling someone what to do. We’ve already discussed the main functions of managers, but consider that one of the very best ways that they can ensure that people do the right thing and work efficiently, is by doing that themselves. If you as a manager are known to be hardworking and a stickler for sticking to company policy, then it’s far more likely that your line reports will follow your lead.
Of course, in small teams of colleagues, even in entry-level positions, leadership emerges. Leaders can help get their team through difficult times, even if it’s not explicitly their job to do so, and that’s valuable, too. Visit any small team of equal seniority in any business and any industry, and there’s a very good chance that at least one member of the team will exhibit leadership, and this is something that should certainly be encouraged.
Being inspirational is one of the hardest professional skills to master, and is often seen as an intrinsic element of someone’s personality, but there are ways in which you can better yourself in this respect. Consider those who look up to you, and why they do so. Can you help make the business better, and indeed their roles better, by doing your own job well? Empowerment is powerful from a company-wise perspective, which is why management training often places a major focus on it.
Having a company culture isn’t easy. Having a great one is even harder. But all of the world’s most successful brands will certainly have one. From the outside, we might not know exactly what that is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. In fact, a great many brands have official internal slogans and marketing that outsiders never hear. The aim is that they’ll help ensure that everyone in the company is part of the same culture.
The question is - who drives this culture? The answer is of course leaders. At the very top are the people who decide what this culture should be. Sometimes they’ll quite literally sit around a table and decide what an organisation’s culture should be about. But other times, this culture will develop organically as the result of strong leadership. In many cases the two become almost synonymous. Apple culture was Steve Jobs’ culture. Virgin culture is Richard Branson’s culture. Their charisma made it happen.
This is hugely valuable, because a common company culture can encourage all workers to work in the same way, to the same goal. It can improve morale, it can increase efficiency, and it can significantly help in a crisis. It often makes or breaks a company.
And of course, below senior leadership levels, company culture is driven by what many people now call ‘champions’. They can come from any level of seniority, but one of their additional job roles (aside from their day-to-day work) is to be a business leader within their own sphere; driving culture by example, and helping to build it. This often requires a lot of charisma, which isn’t necessarily something that can be learned easily, but it can be encouraged. Leaders should encourage other potential leaders to be charismatic.
Leadership is all about thinking freely, inspiring others, and in some ways, becoming one with the company itself. It has a cascading effect, which is why it’s so important at a top level, but look at any grouping of coworkers in an organisation and you’ll see leaders. They should be encouraged, so that they can positively influence both their own sphere of influence, and the company as a whole.
Many of the qualities associated with leadership are considered innate qualities that don’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s not true that they can’t be worked on. Here at Virtual College, we offer a number of online leadership courses that give practical information to help managers and other employees become better at being a leader.