Wear a SMiLe

Are you still a manager or already a leader? – During numerous management discussions and leadership trainings I attended, managers and leaders are largely treated as if they were two different persons, on two different levels. Leaders are often depicted as charismatic innovators with focus on people and trust, while managers are executors with focus on systems, processes and controls. At the same time, there is an unspoken value system implied, whereby leaders are “higher valued” than managers, or – in more positive terms – managers are eventually promoted to leaders. As a result, managers learn management skills enabling them to get things done in the right way, while leaders are taught leadership competencies in order to show the right way. In trainings we learn how styles of leaders and techniques of managers should change according to the circumstances. Looking at those theories, which at times are difficult to be put into practices, we tend to overlook the origins of the words. ‘Manager’ is derived from the Latin word ‘manus’, meaning ‘hand’, literally controlling by hand. The word ‘Leader’ can be traced back to the old English words ‘laedan’ or ‘lidan’, meaning ‘to guide’ or ‘to travel’ respectively. In other words, as manager we control things while as leader we guide people to travel along – and then as specialist we actually get the work done.

Coming back to the initial differentiation of manager versus leader, what if a specialist, manager and leader were not three different levels or positions in a company but rather three different roles, all united in one person, just at different proportions at different times? Then, a fresh graduate who is mainly hired for her or his special knowledge would be considered a leader, for example in the form of a thought leader who brings fresh ideas to the table or as leader of a special assignment / project. A leader on the other hand, would still have a duty as specialist, sharing her or his experience and expertise. Several great CEO’s in history have shown us impressively how top leaders can still be hands-on specialists. In the same way, nowadays specialists, aka millennials, have already clear leadership qualities.

Using the metaphor of a “one-size-fits-all” T-Shirt that can be worn by a Small, Medium or Large sized person, a “one-size-fits-all” leadership thinking can be put into practice if a professional is able to consciously switch between her/his capacities as Specialist, Manager and Leader. As a specialist we build our talent, as a manager we build things and as a leader we build teams and trust – always in close partnership with other people around us. Instead of contemplating which leadership style to choose, we may reflect if the respective situation calls for a leader in the first place – or if we should rather be the hands-on manager or even a down-to-earth specialist in that very moment.

Thus, specialize in your field continuously, manage things responsibly and lead people respectfully, never taking yourself too serious by wearing a SMiLe, since one-smile-fits-all.

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