Leaders come in many shapes and forms. Some are leaders (our boss, manager) and some are influencers (our parents, our peers). But the things that these two have in common are they affect our lives both professionally and personally. These people lead us to success and failure and influence us to be better, or even turn us for the worst sometimes. What does it mean to be a leader and how is this similar to being an influencer? Are these skills taught or are they inherent to who these people are?
A mentor by the name of Sam, who also happened to be my manager at the time, asked me one time what I wanted to do in my career. I told him I wanted to be a leader. He challenged me on this and asked if I wanted to be a leader or an influencer? I had never considered there to be a difference but after additional thought I realized that there really was. A leader to me was someone that was in a position of leading. This was mostly title based for me when it came to considering my professional environment. But – were they really influencers? How much was my leader teaching me? Did I want to be the same? I began to think and quickly answered Sam by correcting my career plan and saying I wanted to be an influencer.
To me, an influencer was someone who would work with others, teach them and share best practices and support them in their efforts. This influencer would do all of this without even having to manage the person or have them report to the influencer. This was a stronger skill set that I wanted because, similar to the skills approach, I feel that skills are key aspects that people learn over time that make them good leaders. I also agree that “the experiences acquired in the course of the leaders’ careers influence their knowledge and skills to solve complex problems.” (Northouse, 2015 pg. 54). Knowing that an influencer is always applying their career experience to help others is something that is constantly being developed and is changing and that is what I feel strong leaders are built off of.
One could argue that a leader is in their position of management because of their accomplishments, but too often do I see leaders at this level that end up never sharing their experiences or they lose sight of what they knew (because times, processes and theories change and they were so far removed they were unaware of the new expectations). This contributes not only to the leader being inflexible but also can impact the success and development of their team. “The skills approach is primarily descriptive. It describes leadership from a skills perspective. Rather than providing prescriptions for success in leadership, the skills approach provides a structure for understanding the nature of effective leadership.” (Northouse, 2015 pg. 56).
If we never stop to think of what kind of leader or influencer we want to be, I feel we will lose sight of what we need to work on as a leader. Do you feel as though you are an influencer that may not have all you need to be a leader but that you can learn from things around you and apply them to be successful both for you and others? If so – you may be more skills approached based. “The skills approach works by providing a map for how to reach effective leadership in an organization: Leaders need to have problem-solving skills, social judgment skills, and knowledge.” (Northouse, 2015 pg. 56). Or do you consider yourself to be a leader with natural skills that just feel right to leading others and yourself into success? If so you may be more aligned with the trait approach. “The trait approach is also used for personal awareness and development. By analyzing their own traits, managers can gain an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, and get a feel for how others in the organization see them.” (Northouse, 2015 pg. 29).
Regardless of what skills or traits you follow I feel it is important for leaders, either taught or naturally born, to understand their styles. For me, working with someone as diverse as Sam helped me to realize the kind of leader I wanted to be. I admired his style for having strong technical, human and conceptual skills. He taught me to be patient, allowed me to develop networking skills, pushed me to learn more and expand my thinking (even in areas I knew nothing about) but most importantly made me aware of the importance of finding my leadership style. I strive to be like Sam and to impact my internal and external stakeholders as well as my peers with as much trust, friendship and professionalism as I have learned from him.
Northouse, P.G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications
Pennsylvania State University (n.d.). Lesson 02: Trait Approach. PSY 532 Psychological Foundations of Leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834794/pages/l02-overview?module_item_id=21894639
Pennsylvania State University (n.d.). Lesson 03: Skills Approach. PSY 532 Psychological Foundations of Leadership. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1834794/pages/l03-overview?module_item_id=21894655