Is Leadership a Role or a Behavior?

For several months now the Harvard Business Review Group, of which I am a member, has been discussing the question, “What are the key differentiators that separate a leader from a manager.” I have been impressed by the longevity of the discussion and by many of the answers. Since my work has focused on leadership as a behavior rather than a role both in individual development and team interaction, I am interested in this discussion. It indicates to me that leadership as a behavior and a concept is transforming, as the world of business relationship transforms.

I would declare that it is an old paradigm to differentiate between managers and leaders in terms of leadership behavior and effectiveness. As organizations grow, and time passes, it is essential that leadership be developed at all levels and be recognized as an asset wherever it occurs. This will create the need for a redefinition of leadership as something we do as a behavior habit rather than a job description.

So often in work with leadership teams it has become clear that it is necessary for everyone in the organization to foster leadership and to inspire others as well as to take responsibility and accountability.

So often managers are seen as the ones who follow through; the ones who work day to day to achieve the goals of the organization. Leaders are seen as the role models, those who inspire, and the ones who move the organization forward. Isn’t it necessary for those in management roles as well as top leadership, to develop those abilities for the organization to thrive?

And isn’t it important for leaders to manage their teams so that everyone on the team is given a model for teamwork that can cascade throughout the organization? One of the rewards is to tap talent for innovation at all levels.

As I work with colleagues and client leaders, we have begun to focus on strategic partnership and collaboration as an essential leadership skill. If leadership is a behavior and not just a designated role, then developing this ability throughout the organization is essential. Part of successful partnering and collaboration is the ability to communicate and connect. Building a network of those connections actually allows for greater resources for success whatever the short-term or long-term goals may be.

A great example of pushing through the old leadership definition exists in one of the leaders that I am currently coaching. His role in the organization has shifted and he does not have any administrative, managerial or supervisory leadership tasks. However, he is developing a strong leadership in the organization, and is defining a new role that will include others in team work.

His first step was to create a network of colleagues who could see him with new perspective. For several months researching his field and creating connections were his biggest tasks. He already had a good network beyond his own scientific organization, but had not developed effective relationships within the organization.

Recently, many new opportunities for innovative exploration and teamwork have been created by him and by others who want to include him. He has focused on being a leader and on using some specific leadership behaviors that are part of including others and letting go of the competitive paradigm so he can move into greater collaboration. This must be intentional and can be demonstrated and taught as it becomes a priority in your organization.

As a way of bringing this into the managerial level of the organization I am reminded of the book, First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Although the book was published in 1999, it is worth reading once again as managers are encouraged to lead and to develop the members of their teams. At that time the research was conducted to see what were the factors that kept the most talented employees within an organization, and what caused them to leave. This research showed that the most important person in working teams was their immediate manager and their relationship to her. The top leadership, the mission of the company, even the culture was not as important. Of course a manager and top leader will reflect the culture and sometimes it is hard to define the difficulties that create dissatisfaction and discouragement.

Do you have a leadership question, challenge, or success you would like to share? Please be sure to leave a comment. I would enjoy hearing from you! – Patricia