Everywhere I go these days, I hear a lot of women talking about leadership. It appears to be the latest buzzword in the business world. So, in your opinion, what is the difference between being a manager and being a true leader?
My first job out of college was as an Assistant Manager in a Retail Store. I was trained to understand my job responsibilities and how to effectively perform each task. However, no one trained me how to actually handle employees. I vividly remember the first day that I was on my own and in charge of the store. I instructed one of the veteran employees, Mary, to merchandise the new clothes that had just been placed on the floor. Mary, who had been there for years, glared at me and loudly said “no”. She then refused to listen to me. I handled the response from her with finesse, professionalism and maturity; I went in the back room and cried alone in the corner.
But while I was in the back room crying and frustrated, something quite wonderful happened. I went from manager to leader in the next few minutes. I stopped crying and began to think about how I was going to accomplish my goal; getting Mary to respect my authority and work for me. I realized that I obviously needed a different tactic. I hatched my plan in the back room; my best strategy was to go back out there and appeal to her compassion.
I went out and asked if we could have a little talk. You see, I knew she had informal power in the store and could convince others of what ever she believed. This was why it was vital that I handle this situation delicately and appropriately. In our talk, I let down my guard and shared with her that I was struggling— this was all new to me and I really needed her help. I asked her if she would be kind enough to help me through this venture. Seeing me vulnerable, she jumped at the chance to help and support me. The truth is that while I was in the back crying, I had an epiphany. In the few weeks that I had worked with her, I noticed a few things about what made Mary “tick”. I understood what motivated Mary— she was a caregiver and wanted to be needed by others. Also, she wanted to be respected for her expertise and knowledge in the store. She was unimpressed by the recent confident college graduate that they had just hired.
From that day forward, I never had any trouble with Mary. In fact, Mary loved me and would do anything for me. In the end, Mary respected my work and encouraged me to move up in the company. In those few minutes where I lost my composure in the back, I internalized a lesson for a lifetime. I forever would understand the real difference between a manager and a leader. A manager is hired to complete tasks. A leader completes tasks but much, much more. A leader knows that in order to be truly effective, she needs to understand how to motivate and inspire each employee. A leader puts her own feelings aside to accomplish this goal because she sees beyond the short-term goal of completing tasks. The truth is, I knew I wanted to rise to the top, so I figured I better find a solution to my first simple dilemma in management. And I did.