My first supervisory role was as director of a child care center. I assumed that I could successfully manage the job. I was respectful of others, a good person with some effective interpersonal skills. So I could do this. However, I was young and naïve and quickly learned that managing was also about leading people. It was inevitable that I would fail if I did not get, at least a few, people throughout the center to carry the vision. They were my vision messengers in the back of the house. They could inspire employees and customers who I did not see or interact with on a regular basis.
I was learning that those who supervise must be skilled in managing and leading. It is not either/or but both.
What is the difference between managing and leading? Warren Bennis has a great list of the differences in one of his earlier books On Becoming a Leader. These are a few philosophies that have particularly influenced my leadership journey.
Leaders must get work done through others; therefore be able to influence. Leadership begins with a vision. When employees understand and are attracted to the vision, it will guide their work.
Vision is best defined and understood during the creation of an organization and subsequently at the time of each new hire. The term organization, in this context, refers to the company, your department, or your team. It also informs decisions and results. Do you know why you do what you do? Do you know how your work fits in the larger picture? Not just what is expected, but why the work you do is important. Simon Sinek, in his book START WITH WHY, explains the correlation between being an inspired leader and having a successful following. The difference is how the leader communicates the vision. Inspired leaders first articulate WHY we will be doing this work then HOW we will accomplish it. The vision should be believable, attractive, and achievable. It will need to be explained in a way that reaches the heart first. It must be something the employees can feel passionate about. When this happens, the vision becomes the reason to do the work with the highest quality.
But leaders, here is the rub. Most people in your organization do not know the vision. There may be a vision statement in the employee handbook or posted on the wall in the employee lounge. But do employees know how the vision translates to their work and their unique value? Often they do not. So they just go about doing the job without really understanding the purpose and how it fits in the larger organization. Where will this connection come from? The employees who work in the back of the house (or department) are your best advocates of the vision. Colleagues communicating the vision have daily opportunity to talk about it to other employees and customers, more so than the supervisors. And they are credible.
In business today, the message must be clear. We know the message is working when the people who do the work well are admired for it by their peers. So how might you create messengers in the back of the house? Here is one example:
Due to company growth, the HR department will experience an increase in the number of employees, which in turn requires more managers in the department. They prefer not to hire managers externally, but grow from the existing team. To achieve this, the HR leaders decide that the vision for the upcoming year should be Grow Future Leaders. This vision is explained in meetings, communicated through email, and discussed in individual meetings with department heads.
But that is not enough. There must be messengers in the back of the house. These messengers are proof that the vision is alive, understood, and acted upon. The way an organization allocates resources (financial and human) illustrates their commitment to this vision by:
If there are messengers in the back of the HR house, they will talk about how they benefit from a vision-led department. They know the vision and see it in action. The vision goes viral when employees embrace it and gain from it. In turn, they tell others and attract more talent to the HR department.
Leaders starting talking now to more those in your organization who could be your messengers of the vision!