Understanding leadership and management

Leadership can be defined as the art to motivate people to move and act toward a shared goal, vision or project. It can also be defined as a conversation and not a monologue, for a leader is, by definition, someone who has a following. According to the situational leadership model there are four styles:

  • The Director style, with high emphasis on directing people and high accountability on results.
  • The Coach style focuses on supporting people as well as directing them.
  • Supporter style, which puts its efforts in supporting people much more than directing them.
  • Delegator style, used by someone who takes responsibility for the task, but the actual job is carried out by someone else.

Each one of us has a style that feels more comfortable to adapt, but we need to remember that different situations and circumstances may need a shift in the leading style. For example, the director style could be great to lead new employees, show them the ropes of the organisation, but we might find that the delegating style is more effective and time saving toward members of the team who have more experience.

Servant leadership is an alternative way to look at leadership, and it’s been around since the seventies. It focuses on making sure that the employees of an organisation -the very people who follow the leader- reach their goals and objectives in life, through their work in the organisation. A servant leader is one that puts himself and his ego aside and puts all his energy and efforts in creating the best environment possible for his team members. Although it might seem an unconventional way of going about it, studies have showed that a servant leader is able to get a much higher level of commitment from the team than a traditional one. This happens because the servant leader engages the hearts of the people as well as their minds, creating a deeper bond between them.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner identified 5 practises that should be part of a leaders’ set of skills:

  • The first one is to “challenge the process”, because a leader is always seeking innovation, new, better ways to do things, to save money, time and a whole lot of other resources. It is fundamental to challenge the process with which tasks are carried out, so that it can be constantly improved.
  • The second one is to “inspire a shared vision”, as I mentioned earlier, a leader is someone who has a following, and in order to get people to follow you, you must have a clear vision of the objectives and goals you want to achieve, and to “sell” it to the team so that they consciously take action toward something they understand and believe in.
  • The third one is to “enable others to act”, and it’s pretty self explanatory. Once you create a team with a shared vision, you have to give them the tools needed to operate toward that vision.
  • The fourth practise is to “model the way”, which can be explained as showing others what to do and how to do it. In order to achieve goals, a leader needs operational plans, a list of every single step needed to translate the shared vision into reality.
  • The fifth and last practise is to “encourage the heart”. This is probably the hardest one to pull off, as every member of the team is different from each other and therefore has a different way of being encouraged. It’s important for a leader to give recognition when it’s due, and it should always be done genuinely as a fake compliment might damage the relation of trust between them and the team member.

The differences between a manager and a leader are several. Both leaders and managers are essential in order to achieve goals and objectives within an organisation. We could define managing as doing things right, and leading as doing the right things. A manager will take care of aspects like planning, staffing, budgeting and problem solving, focusing on the short term and providing tangible results; a leader on the other hand will focus on the long term, on the members of the team and their wellbeing within the organisation, their motivation and making sure the team is aligned with the same vision.

Although there are various types of thinking, I am going to discuss two of those: directional thinking and consequential thinking. Directional thinking is the thought process that establishes a direction. It consists of two steps, a direction setting opportunity (DSO), an opportunity arbitrarily given to you or intentionally created, and a direction setting decision (DSD), the moment in which you change the old direction for a new one.

There are different techniques one can use to create this change of direction. The first one is “paradigm shifts”. Stephen Covey explained it really well with an example: he was on a subway train early one Sunday morning, then a father boarded the wagon with his crying and screaming kids. Everyone’s reaction was to get angry and resentful, but when the behaviour of the kids was brought the man’s attention, he explained that they just found out about the death of their mom, his wife. The paradigm shift here happened when the new information changed the anger and resentment of the passengers with compassion and sympathy toward the noisy children. Another technique is called “mind mapping”. Whenever there’s a task, our thoughts about what items we need and how to use them don’t always come to us in a linear way, so it’s useful to list them in order to create a map we can follow to complete the task. One more technique we can use to take the new direction is “reframing”. When we are stuck with something or we have a negative perception of a person or situation, reframing can give us a new perspective and new insights, so that we can have the right tools to make a DSD.

“Consequential thinking” can be described as the process of identifying all the risks linked to an action, and then the decision to whether take that action or not. We think about the consequences of certain action and then decide if we’re up for the risks and different outcomes. Many factors could influence this decision and we can use some basic ethics to help us decide, like the balance and fairness of that decision, its lawfulness, as well as the cost and benefits, pros and cons of that decision.

I believe that influencing is at the very core of leadership, the effectiveness of a leader is absolutely based on his ability to influence others. A leader is someone who creates a shared vision within a team and therefore he must be able to influence them into buying that vision and then work towards it. Every member of a team (or every person on the planet, at scale) is influenced by different factors, so a leader must consider a rather wide range of strategies to influence. Robert Cialdini has identified six. The first one is “reciprocity”, the obligation we feel to return something done for us, like birthday greetings. Then there’s “commitment”, referring to the internal and external pressure we feel to accomplish something once we committed to it. “Social proof” is an influence strategy based on the things that most people are doing. You look around you, figure out what people are doing and you do that. Another strategy to influence others is “likeability”. As humans, we have a way of deciding if we like something or someone within seconds of the first interaction, and we are obviously incline to be influenced by something or someone we like, rather than something we don’t. “Authority” is another influence strategy, as we tend to trust someone who holds a position of authority, we can use as examples doctors, police officers and professors. The last of the influence strategies identified by Cialdini is “scarcity”, referring to the impelling need we feel to stock up on things that we know of being scarce.

I am better than no man and no man is better than I