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Lessons in leadership

Key qualities that separate the role from management

August 27, 2012
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It has been my experience that there is a considerable difference between being a manager and being a leader. Basically, it is the job of the manager to plan, organize and coordinate, whereas a leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.

I can recall a conversation early in my career about management versus leadership with U.S. Marine and long-time trucking journalist Bob Deierlein, who has since become a dear friend. To help me understand the difference between a manager and a leader, Deierlein explained that the Marines consider leadership the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding and moral character that allow a person to inspire and control a group of people successfully.

“No organization can rise above the quality of its leadership,” he told me. “The character of the leaders is essential.”

Basic differences

In the book, “On Becoming a Leader,” author Warren Bennis compiled a list of some of the key distinctions between a manager and a leader, which include the following:

• A manager administers; a leader innovates.

• A manager is a copy; a leader is an original.

• A manager maintains; a leader develops.

• A manager focuses on systems and structure; a leader focuses on people.

• A manager relies on control; a leader inspires trust.

• A manager has a short-range view; a leader has a long-range perspective.

• A manager asks how and when; a leader asks what and why.

• A manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; a leader’s eye is on the horizon.

• A manager imitates; a leader originates.

• A manager accepts the status quo; a leader challenges it.

• A manager is the classic good soldier; a leader is his or her own person.

• A manager does things right; a leader does the right thing.

Cornerstone attributes

According to Donald R. Knauss, chairman and chief executive officer of The Clorox Co., Oakland, Calif., the key to being an effective leader is the ability to rally people to a better future because this shapes an organization’s culture to sustain performance.

During his career, Knauss, who also served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, established himself as a change agent, bringing entire organizations with him, including Clorox and The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta.

In his address on leadership at a recent trucking industry event, he explained that rallying people to a better future is done through thought leadership, such as envisioning the future, anchoring a core idea and energizing others for the future. Knauss outlined five key traits that successful leaders possess:

• Integrity. One must maintain an adherence to moral and ethical principles, including building trust, telling the truth and doing the right thing. In addition, a handshake should be enough.  “It’s all about character,” Knauss said.

• Curiosity. “Ideas drive organizations and progress,” he said. “World-class leaders are world-class learners.” Knauss stressed the importance of creating a safe environment for debate because as a person moves up in an organization, the ability to get the truth becomes more difficult. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world,” he said. “You’ve got to get out and be curious to understand what is going on.”

• Optimism. Lead from optimism “because it nurtures dreamers and expands possibilities,” Knauss said. “Optimism creates positive energy throughout the organization. Pessimism engages no one. Optimists are problem-solvers because they are always looking for that better way.”

• Compassion. “Have more concern for your people than yourself,” Knauss said. “When people know that, it’s amazing what they will do for you.” Because life is not fair, Knauss said successful leaders need to use their power to make it fair. “Each of us has the ability to make things a little bit more fair,” he said. “Tough love is required, too. We all have to make tough decisions, but if it’s done transparently, and you involve other people in those decisions, the right outcome will be there.”

• Humility. Successful leaders use authority, not power. Rather than ordering people around, talk to them and explain what you want to get done, Knauss said. “It’s amazing how much more they will get done,” he explained. He added that a leader must be approachable because that is how “you’ll learn what’s really going on.” Don’t think you are indispensable, Knauss said, but don’t discount your own importance. “People are always observing what we are doing as leaders.”

 Knauss emphasized that by focusing on integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion and humility, “you can truly inspire people and organizations to be productive and valuable.” In summarizing his remarks, he referred to Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play major league baseball. The epitaph on Robinson’s tombstone has nothing to do with baseball, Knauss pointed out. It reads: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” At the end of the day, that is what leadership is all about, Knauss concluded. BI 

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