When discussing leadership, “experts” too often focus on esoteric concepts without real world examples. There is no one definition of leadership because leadership appears in many forms, and is often perceived differently by the beholder. That is exactly why real world examples can create a better picture of leadership, focusing not only on the effective, but the ineffective.
Here is a great example of an ineffective leader. Company A has a division head “John” managing 15 people in a dynamic office environment. The group has an employee, “Sam”, who is the top producer across the company’s footprint; essentially outperforming 900 other employees by a wide margin. Sam is underpaid, and has been underpaid for 6 years, all of which under the supervision and “leadership” of John.
John is highly regarded at the company and is considered by many to be one of the strongest managers and producers in the industry. John has direct access to all company executives, and regularly speaks to many of them, including quarterly Board presentations. The company considers him a Leader.
Upon the arrival of John’s new boss, Diane, John complained about Sam’s low pay and lack of respect he receives at the company. Diane asked John what he has done about it. To her surprise, the answer was “nothing.” John then asked Diane to see what she could do to get Sam a raise.
Sam was not just underpaid. He made half of that of his peers while out producing all of them. John had 6 years to work on this, but now, due to his lack of leadership, it may take years to get Sam up to the required pay grade.
Over the next 3 years, Diane worked hard to get Sam pay increases in excess of the company’s policy for raises, even for exceptional producers. Diane effectively was able to double Sam’s total compensation in 2 years. During the process, John continued to complain about Sam’s pay, without ever taking any personal responsibility for Sam’s pay staying as low as it was for the prior 6 years.
John is typical of many managers and “leaders” in companies from coast to coast. He fails to recognize the difference between management and leadership, and fails to take a leadership role. In this case, as a leader, John should have made a business case and continued to push for it, supporting his employee, and showing the company why Sam is their most valuable asset. Instead, John did nothing but complain to peers and new managers, failing to act like a leader and lead. Diane had no trouble getting Sam’s pay increased methodically over 2 years. It only took an effective leader to get it done.
Get in front of the issue and stay in front. Show the will and desire to make change happen in a positive way. Push in a professional and proactive manner until the mission is complete. Lead. Win. Don’t follow the herd, and most importantly, don’t expect others to lead. Expect it out of yourself.