What Great Bosses Know about Leadership

Will you join me in a modest celebration? This column marks the 50th in my “Great Bosses” series. For this special occasion, let’s talk about leadership and what it really means. The truth is, being promoted to management doesn’t guarantee you will become a leader. The term “boss” is just a title, a rank in the organization.

The way I see it, the people you work for select you to be a manager; the people who work for you and with you decide if you’re a leader. I’ve lost count of the leadership books I’ve read and written about, each with its own take on the topic. But in the end, I come back to the simple conclusion that leaders are individuals that people choose to follow.

That choice is an amazing gift. When people choose to follow you, they are extending their trust, their talent, their toil and their time because you’ve measured up to their standards. Think about it. Much of the literature about being a manager deals with assessing and improving the performance of others. But boss, you don’t earn the mantle of leader until you’ve proven yourself to your people through your words, deeds, and the values that drive them.

Not every manager is a leader. Not every leader is a manager. You don’t need stripes on your sleeve to have influence. Some organizations are blessed to have leaders at all levels, in management as well as staff. If you’re a boss who has leaders on your staff, people without formal titles whom others turn to for guidance, ideas and inspiration, you’re fortunate. And if you’re a leader, you’ve already thanked those individuals many times over for their contributions. You’re not intimidated by their status, you’re appreciative.

How else can you determine if you’re considered a leader, someone people choose to follow? Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

  • Am I known as trustworthy?
  • Do people feel I am approachable?
  • Do I communicate clearly and effectively?
  • Do I provide helpful, meaningful feedback that people value?
  • Do people believe I can see the world through their eyes and understand their goals?
  • Do I convey optimism and enthusiasm that elevates others?
  • Do people have confidence in my knowledge and expertise?
  • Am I known as a smart person who still loves to learn?
  • Am I calm under pressure and strong in crisis?
  • Does my influence extend beyond my immediate team because I collaborate well across groups?
  • Do I cope well with frustration, knowing a manager’s emotions can be contagious?
  • Do people look forward to working with me because they feel valued?
  • Do I inspire people with my values and my vision for our success?

No leader is perfect, of course, so don’t despair if you didn’t quite ace this quiz. The characteristics I’ve listed all contribute to the reasons people choose to follow others, it’s true. But each leader has a unique mix of them. And here’s the best news: not all leaders are born destined to lead; most work hard at achieving the distinction.

So, if you’re up to the task of leadership learning, boss, we’ll keep on sharing advice. In fact, in celebration of this 50th dispatch, we’re planning to make the 51st a handy reference for you. Our next column will take the first 50 “Great Bosses” columns, sort them by topic and share them again. Meanwhile, there’s one form of leadership I think is the most important of all. I’ll describe it in today’s podcast “What Great Bosses Know about Leadership.”

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. You can download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunesU. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

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