John Doe was in a great mood. He had just called his wife Jane and invited her out to a celebration dinner. He had a lot to celebrate today because he had finally been promoted to a managerial position. He was now a leader!
Or so he thought.
The very next day at work he walked into his new corner office with an elevated sense of confidence. His career was finally going somewhere! The title on his door was no longer just his name. It was now "DIRECTOR" John Doe!
But then he got a phone call. It was Sally, one of his 'new' subordinate employees from several cubicles away. She had a long list of problems, issues, and items that needed attention, and she wanted to meet with him. When they met, she rambled for so long about all kinds of issues, that John soon lost track of what Sally was saying, and her words and complaints were like a meaningless monotone rant. Somehow, he had to solve this problem and keep his unit productive, but he had no idea how to do it. So, naturally, he did what he knew best. He took the items from her, and with a weak smile, promised her he'd get them done himself.
When she left, he got a forwarded leadership article by email from a friend with the simple question: 'Are you a leader, or an individual contributor?' Sadly, he sat back and looked at the new pile of work on his desk. Looking out the window of his brand new office, he realized that his title and income may have just changed, but he was nowhere near being a real leader.
This is the plight of far too many people in 'leadership' positions. They have big, fancy titles, but they never actually 'DO' any leadership on a daily basis. They are focused on being personally and individually productive...attending meetings, writing reports, making phone calls. But influencing employees? No. Walking around and building trust among the team? No. Providing a sense of vision and direction for subordinates? No. Delegating tasks? No. None of the above!
The corporate world at large needs to examine what is meant when someone is described as a 'leader'. Leadership is about influence—getting others to do things—and it is NOT about title. Most people know this intuitively, but in practice, they walk around with big 'leadership' titles, yet they behave like individual contributors. If you have a title that implies leadership, take a look around you, and realize that your job is not just about providing reports and 'doing' stuff yourself. Your job is now about enabling and empowering OTHER people, and about getting THEM to be successful as a result of your vision and influence.
If you're not out influencing anyone...if no one is following you...if all you do is stay busy 'doing stuff'...then you're probably not a leader. You're an individual contributor with a cool new title and a fancy office. If you thought it was hard work getting that title...get ready, because it's going to be even harder work to learn how to EXECUTE real leadership everyday.
Thankfully, ANYONE can learn to BE a great leader by DOING great leadership behaviors, one day at a time. If you've ever wondered what it takes to go from being an individual contributor to actually 'DOING' great leadership, we'd love to hear from you!!
Pele Raymond Ugboajah, PHD