Are You a Leader in the Making?

A young professional once told me, “I want to be a leader like you are.” After thanking her for the compliment, I responded, “Why do you want to be a leader? And do you think you have the gift of leadership?” Many people think being a leader is an easy task and it’s not. They only focus on the outside perceived benefits of leaders such as the big titles, having people reporting to them, making the big decisions for the companies they lead, and usually having a high salary.

Being a leader is a serious responsibility. And it is different than being a manager. Great leaders know they are responsible for their employees’ actions and the company’s outcome. They answer to the Board of Directors and to the shareholders of the company. The leaders of individual divisions or departments within large organizations answer to the CEO and are responsible for their contribution to the overall performance of the company. Everything every employee does at a company has an impact and the leaders of those employees are responsible for the positive or negative outcome.

Some people are excellent managers, yet terrible leaders because they lack the vision and fire that it takes to lead people. Others are excellent leaders. They have the power to influence others and encourage them to follow their vision—together. Yet these leaders may be poor managers because they lack the dedication it takes to execute the vision of the company down to the details. It is rare to find people who possess both the gift of leadership and the management skills.

Often, however, leaders need to be managers and managers need to lead. So, how can you do both successfully? I believe there are certain skills you can hone and talents you can develop in order to become a great leader and an effective manager.

Professionalism. Regardless of your position in a company, but especially leaders and managers, you must act professionally. Professionalism is reflected in everything you do—from your written emails, how you leave a voice mail, how you treat others (peers, vendors, shareholders, employees, customers, etc.), how you dress, to how you do presentations and conduct meetings. The way you present yourself to others matters at every level in the organization and to the public.

Assertiveness. You become assertive with experience as you learn your trade more and as you acquire working-life experience in general. Knowledge is powerful. Having a life-long learning attitude will ensure you will always be learning something new. The more you know about your specific job, industry, and company, the more assertive you become. The same way you can learn to be a better manager and leader. Don’t confuse, however, assertiveness with arrogance. No one likes arrogant people. You need to stay humble as you acquire knowledge.

Decisiveness. Leaders and managers who are able to make decisions assertively and professionally are the most respected ones. Making decisions is not an easy task and your employees expect you to make decisions with the information you have at the time—in a timely manner. Great leaders and managers own their decisions and take the responsibility for the results. It is a risk well worth taking.

Mentoring. Leaders and managers mentor others. They also have a mentor. Mentoring relationships are extremely important to succeed in business. At some point in your life, you may need a mentor to teach you from their life experiences. You will also want to mentor others as a way to give back and pass down your knowledge to the next generation. As a manager, you have a unique opportunity to mentor your employees in many ways. You can mentor them on how to succeed in their specific jobs, how to continue to grow in their careers, and how to navigate the political environment in the company (most companies have some politics whether we like it or not). As a leader, you have the unique opportunity to mentor the other leaders and managers under you—your executive team. You can mentor them to become better managers and in some cases, help them decide if they should stay as managers or move back to performing a non-management job.

Entrepreneurship. Regardless of the industry you work in, you will always need to develop some entrepreneurial skills in order to stay flexible, creative, and innovative. As your company grows, you need to be nimble and adjust to the new ways of doing things, accommodate to the ongoing growth, and move around within the company to fill in the gaps as needed.

Sociability. Some people hate networking. But it is a necessary skill to develop in order to stay connected to your industry, learn from your peers, find new opportunities in your career, and grow as a leader. Using humor the appropriate way is also a great tool to win others over. Humor that is simple, clean, and not degrading to others is safe to use at any occasion. People appreciate genuine friendliness too. People can tell when you sincerely care about them and when you’re only using them as a connection or to get ahead. Therefore, hone your networking skills and be genuine.

Community. Being involved in your local community is key to succeeding in your business. You should also explore involving yourself with industry associations and representing your industry in the political arena if that is something that interests you. When you apply all the ideas above, you can truly influence your community to improve the lives of others and those in your industry.

Leading and managing people is a serious responsibility. If you are a leader in the making, ask yourself the questions, “Why do I want to be a leader?” and also “Do I have the gift of leadership?” If you truly want to be a great leader, invest time and effort in developing these traits. You will then experience the wonderful feeling of leading others and helping them succeed as well. Take the opportunity and responsibility to lead seriously and go for it!

Marci Malzahn is a banking executive and founder of Malzahn Strategic (www.malzahnstrategic.com), a community bank consultancy focused on strategic planning, enterprise risk management and talent management. Marci is also an author and motivational/ inspirational speaker.