By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
I believe everyone wants to be a leader because (1) it’s expected by society, (2) the title and responsibilities are perceived as being “cool,” and (3) not being a leader means you are not a part of the “in” trend. But how do you live up to these three expectations if you do not possess the skill set to become a leader?
What or Who Is a Leader?
The “pure” definition of a leader is a person with followers. The dictionary has two definitions for leaders, but they’re contradictory. The first definition of a leader is “a position as a head of a group” and the second definition is “the power or ability to lead other people.”
Appointed Leaders Versus Leaders Who Earn the Title
During training programs, a favorite question is “What is the difference between a leader and a manager?” Merriam-Webster’s definitions provide insight into the difference. A leader can be defined as someone who can inspire others to do something.
A manager is a person who has been given the position of leadership over a group of individuals. A manager is appointed to a position, but the real leader may or may not rise in the group.
An organization’s executives may recognize a manager as a success. However, his/her team may not be motivated and inspired to perform at peak level.
An employee’s desire to stay in an organization is influenced by his/her perception of whether the department has a leader or a manager.
In the trenches, perception means more than title. We need to ensure that we have prepared the right people to lead our workforces if we want the level of productivity and performance that make us a leader in the industry.
How Do We Develop Our Leaders?
Do we seek out individuals who have a natural ability to lead effortlessly or do we provide training to individuals who we desire to become leaders? Some leadership development experts will say both models will work, but which one makes sense for your organization?
I believe natural leaders only have to learn the culture, which means half the battle is won. Instinct allows these individuals to hone in on the personalities of each team member and determine what is needed for that person to be successful.
My Brand of Leadership Development Programs
If I had the opportunity to create a leadership program from scratch, I would design it in contrast to what is currently available. For example, I would create an icebreaker for all new recruits to the program. I would take them out of their environment and place them in another organization in an entry-level position. Their task would be to “rise” as the leader of a special project that is relevant to a group of individuals whom they do not know. Basically, I would level the playing ground and take away special privileges.
How successful would your leaders be in this type of situation? You can use this experiment as a pre-test to gauge the type and level of work that you need to do in developing each person for leadership. Your organization could create a customized action plan for each individual to develop skill sets they are lacking. How will you develop your leadership skills?
Leaders are vital to an organization, and we need people who can inspire and motivate our workforces. We no longer have the luxury of “hoping” that we have the best people in place. Leading takes more than the technical ability of a particular function or receiving favorable position from key decision makers. Therefore, I believe it is a good strategic move to ensure that we have the best people in the right positions in the right department at all times. Spend the time and money to protect your investment!
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision, and an ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.