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The leader and the guy in charge


I don’t usually write about leadership, primarily because I don’t fully understand it. I think I get caught up in the definition. You, dear reader, can help me to learn.

Usually a list of leadership traits describes the guy in charge, not necessarily a leader.  The guy in charge and the leader aren’t the same thing. They CAN be, of course, but I don’t see that very often.

So I guess a person first needs to decide if they want to be the leader, or be the guy in charge. You’ll need different qualities for each.

Take the Broncos, for instance. Pat Bolen is in charge, but is he the leader? Can he say something to the team which will make them play harder? I don’t think so. What about the Coach Fox? He’s in charge of the team, but he’s trying to motivate guys who earn more than he does. What can he say? He can design plays, and choose who starts, but can he make them play harder? Ultimately he’s just managing personalities and planning the offense - while trying to stay out of the way.

The real leader of the Broncos is the guy who can get everyone to achieve something which they otherwise wouldn’t. It will be a player who shows, by the force of his desire to succeed, how to win - and his obvious attitude that it’s the team that matters, not him as an individual. The leader’s name isn’t important, it’s the organizational goal that matters - and the leader gets everyone to buy into that philosophy and reach the end.

Meanwhile, this same player who can get the team to win might fail as Pat Bolen or Coach Fox. He has leadership ability, but not necessarily what it takes to be in charge.

So I’m putting this as my number one on the list of Leadership myths: The guy in charge is the leader.

If Susie in Accounting can rally the entire company around an unwelcome new policy, than Susie is your company’s leader. Without her on board, the CEO is not going to be effective.

But Susie may be on the wrong team. By the force of her personality she can be a negative influence, nay saying every suggestion and getting the staff to go along with her. In this case, Susie has to go. Her leadership has gone to the dark side, the manipulative side, and cannot be tolerated in a workplace.

But if Susie is benevolent and wise, the CEO will need to recognize Susie’s power and harness it. Any idiot in charge can make his assistant type faster, but not everyone can make her WANT to type faster.  Any CEO can use his authority to scare his people into making more sales, but how many can get achieve those results because of WHO he is rather than WHAT he is? That guy is a leader; the first guy is the boss.

Susie, you may make minimum wage, and you may not get any credit, but you are a leader. Any one of us can become you without being the CEO. The qualities you have are the real leadership traits. So what are they - and can they be learned?

That’s what I ask myself, and I’m still working on an answer. My first thought is that INFLUENCE is the primary leadership trait. If you can influence people to see your goal and reach it, you are the real leader. Do you disagree?

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David Sneed

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss; The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company". As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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