Leaders Don't Have Autopilot

A leader has many roles – setting goals, inspiring others, developing strategy are some examples.  But the most important is keeping teams and individuals on track.  Without this ability, the other roles will never be met.  It is also the most difficult.  No matter the education level, or pay scale or task, keeping teams or departments and all the individuals that make them up on track is by far the most challenging job a leader has.
Shortly after I first moved into a management role, I had lunch with a former boss.  He asked me how I dealt with people always coming to me for assistance or questions or needing something.  I hadn’t talked about it, but realized just how right he was and how he must have had that in his role.  And, of course, I wondered about all the special requests that I had gone to him for in the past.
The idea stuck with me and I have grown to realize that leadership is all about people more than anything else.  Addressing the needs of customers, staff, direct reports and keeping the individuals on your teams working towards the same end is the real work at hand.
Throughout my management experiences, I have encountered a number of similarities, no matter the exact job or task involved.  Namely, as a leader you are constantly striving to keep your followers or employees on track.  You may have a set vision or destination in mind and specific steps needed to get there, but you can never lose sight of what your group needs.  Because no matter how carefully you’ve trained them, developed them or inspired them, people lose that vision and things fall apart.
               Individuals will find reasons to argue and debate and work against each other instead of working for each other and the common good.  It is not due to malice, at least not always, nor any kind of bad intention.  It is just natural that a group of people will all have different ideas on how to get things done or on what to focus on.
               As a department leader, I have seen supervisors with worries about handling difficult individuals.  Sometimes, it seems as if they are more worried about being popular than meeting goals.  Other times, they are more focused on having someone do things ‘their way.’  The result is that they lose focus on the goals and end up losing the respect of their own reports and can become overbearing themselves and lose any esteem they may have had.  But the common thing is that they seemed surprised at the challenge.  That is exactly what they are supposed to be dealing with.  Difficult individuals and their differences. 
               As a leader, you will always have a target on your back – people will focus on what you do or don’t do and watch what example you set.  This is where your focus on vision is essential – people will see what you are trying to accomplish and follow if they believe.
               As a leader, you must develop, nurture and grow that belief.  This is where your knowledge, experience and most important, your judgment, come into play.
               Once you’ve done that, you cannot sit back on cruise control or autopilot.  Your ship needs constant tending and tweaking.  Individuals will wander and falter.  This is what separates great leaders – keeping everyone on track.
               And that is the difference between true leaders and just managers.  Being able to negotiate the minefields of individual differences, emotions, jealousies, private goals and personalities is critical.  And for the true leader – you cannot let down your guard or coast on auto pilot.  Issues come up too fast and too frequently.  The best of teams will fall down.
               So turn off the autopilot and forget the cruise control and settle in for a long, and often, bumpy, but rewarding ride.

1 comment:

  1. I have found leadership to be on of the most valuable and yet misunderstood traits of humanity. Applying influence and inspiration to a job is much more difficult than simply going through the motions, and the motions are all that most even attempt.