Many people make a common blunder of using ‘leader’ and ‘manager’, interchangeably. The role of a leader is clearly different from that of a manager. A leader’s role is to bring out a change. A manager’s role is to bring consistency in the whole process. What is important to understand is the difference between being a manager and a leader.
Many companies who hire students as their management trainees always hire those who reflect leadership skills. As per my personal experience, a company had conducted group discussions with nearly 35-40 students just for selecting only two candidates. Out of my group discussion, one of the students made it to the company as a management trainee. It was a situation based GD. We were told to arrange the given items in the order of preference. The student who made it gave his inputs, kept track of the time, backed up others suggestions, incorporated others suggestions, questioned others and made quick decisions. To be precise, he led the whole discussion and made it to the company. Companies require such capable students as they are the ones who will work for them in the future and make it to the management level.
You may have come across drawings and photographs which showcase leadership as the leader walks ahead and others follow. But this story is not universally the same. If you look at the Chinese system, they follow the paternalistic way. They prefer their leaders to be fatherly-like. Their pictures would showcase the leader walking behind the followers. The leader walks behind to protect the clan and is supportive. There are different styles of leadership. For instance, Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany; Even after accounting for his deeds, he is referred as one of the greatest leaders. His leadership style was charismatic. Charismatic leadership focuses on the leader’s capability of motivating and inspiring his followers at a very commanding and emotional level.
There are other leadership styles too. The Democratic: a participative leadership in which each and every member of the team is involved to build the decision process. The Servant: more like a philosophy and set of principles to enrich the lives of the employees, build better organisations and a healthy and caring work environment. The famous example of such a leadership style is South West Airlines which have established themselves as the most employee friendly airline. The Laissez-faire: the leader believes in delegating by providing the tools and resources to the subordinates to solve the problems all by themselves. The Transformational: here, the leader uses his personality and vision to bring change in the perspective, motivation and expectation of his followers. The authoritarian: also known as autocratic leaders. These leaders are more like managers; they have set agendas, goals, policies, rules and procedures. They are directive and controlling. They possess the autonomy and have higher standards of supervision.
To become a successful leader one can adopt any of the leadership styles or the combination of these styles. Usually, different organisations prefer a particular style of leadership depending upon the business they are into. Many countries prefer their leaders to follow a particular style of leadership. In fact, in one single organisation, different leadership styles can be observed to be followed at various levels, departments and business lines. There may be also difference in the styles followed by the holding company and its subsidiaries depending upon their business, their employees and their region of operations. Usually, organisations hire employees depending upon their organisational fit and goal alignment with that of the organisation. Thus, developing leadership skills is crucial.
It is important that the leader is an effective one. For being a successful leader, one should know his capabilities and his personality. He should be able to use these capabilities and features to influence the followers. The main role of the leader is to establish direction and align people. If the leader takes interest in knowing its followers, he can arrange and delegate them according to their capabilities. This also helps in defining their roles. It also enhances communication in the group and does not stop the followers by hesitating to ask guidance and help. Two way communication and proper integration and collaboration, all three together boost team morale and the outcome is higher efficiency while working in teams. Being supportive and helpful encourages the employees and enriches their creativity leading to higher productivity and lower wastage. The leader should be able to communicate the vision effectively. Communicating the vision effectively brings clarity of roles, responsibilities and facilitates reduction in wastage of time and resources. The main role of the leader is to give direction to the followers. A leader can never spoon-feed his followers. He needs to give them direction towards working and achieving their goals. He needs to show them the path and push them forward by inspiring them. But it is very important to supervise. An effective leader needs to delegate the work and also need to give autonomy to his followers. Giving the employees a hands-off experience is a must. But at the same time, the leader must involve him in every activity the employees undertake by giving them sufficient resources and attention whenever the employees require.