**Warning** This post is long-winded. Sorry!
As I posted an article from History.com recounting the appointment of General McClellan as replacement for Gen. Winfield Scott as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, I couldn’t help revisiting times in my military & teaching career when the topic of ‘Leadership’ became a discussion topic among my friends and colleagues.
When you look for leadership in persons appointed over you, there are certain prerequisites that must be met. I say ‘must’ because you depend on others to identify good leadership. One cannot self-diagnose that they are good leaders.
One prerequisite is that the ‘Leader’ must be intimately familiar with the plight of those he/ she is ‘leading’. This might be achieved by having served in the same/ similar roles as the soldier, employee, neighbors, etc.
Another prerequisite, is a inter-personal style that recognizes individual contributions as significant and vital for success.
A third prerequisite, and very important in my estimation of leadership quality, is the shrinking of any social distinction that may exist between the leader and his soldiers, employees, etc. In other words, our American society, while lacking any official ‘class’ distinctions, does nurture opinions regarding social differences. Many of us would not hesitate in classifying ourselves or others as upper class, middle class, or lower class. Often, these classifications carry preconceived notions about a person’s income, personality, access to privilege, etc. It is important to me that anyone appointed over me does not carry any real or perceived social distinction into our interaction. The bottom-line is that the leader and the led conduct their interactions in a manner that reflects their common goals and condition of service. If any social distinction creeps into the relationship, then it’ll be very difficult to convince me that any future actions lack the infection of such distinctions. These social distinctions, of course, are not the same as the distinctions that arise as one climbs the ranks of a profession.
General McClellan, a man whose meteoric rise in rank was, at that time, predominantly attributed to good leadership and not good fortune and managerial skills. This man, by most accounts, was a gifted manager. He was able to excel in positions that required supplying and distributing resources as well as training. However, his career since returning to military service in 1861 is a great example of how managerial skills can’t stand-in for leadership skills.
I have found myself in discussions about leadership under several different umbrellas. I’ve talked about it with friends, colleagues in my teaching profession, among historians in university settings, and with fellow soldiers in my military career. A question that is often posed is “Are managers and leaders synonymous?”. My answer is NO!
A manager is one who is tasked to assess the need, acquire, and distribute resources for the completion of a task or attaining a goal. In my current profession as a History teacher, I view all supervisors from Assistant Principals to the Chancellor (City-wide supervisor) as managers. Their jobs, by description and execution, is overly concerned with managing budgets, requisitioning and distributing supplies, assigning teachers to teach a certain course, ensuring there is parental involvement, etc. Little to no attention is paid to the qualities of a leader that I described earlier.
The simplest description of a good leader I can give is this; a good leader is one, who by experience, knowledge, and empathy with the one being led can get him/ her to do what they would otherwise find difficult to do. Often, this would also involve the leader explaining the common goals they share and the ‘big picture’ of what they are attempting to achieve. The leader finds a way to convey the common cause that all in the organization (military unit, school, etc.) share and work toward. The good leader offers guidance and understands that any success he/ she realizes is through the exertions of those they lead. Consequently, the good leader makes that fact known to those being led.
Can a manager be a leader? Yes!
Is a manager a leader? Not necessarily.
Does a good leader have to possess managerial skills? Yes!
Does a good leader have to be a good manager? Not Necessarily.
I have been on both ends of this equation. I have been ‘led’ and placed in a position to ‘lead’. I’ve found that any success I had as a leader was because I have had the experience of being among the ‘led’.
Let me know what you think.