Inspire your followers to lead the way

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - 09:58

Guest post by AIM Senior Research Fellow, Dr Samantha Johnson

‘There go the people. I must follow them for I am their leader.’ - Alexandre Ledru-Rollin

The Great Man Theory of Leadership developed through the 1800s presented the idea that only heroic men, born with specific characteristics could be leaders. 

Leadership and people management are of similar ilk, right?  Managing people – leading people - more or less the same?  The ‘soft skills’ of inspiring, motivating, engaging etc.

So, what’s your stand on the old debate about leaders being born, not made?  Does this apply to good people managers too?   Good people managers are born, not made…interesting angle, hey?

Whether you agree or disagree, guess what? The debate has returned to the discussion on leadership and people management.  When it comes to the ‘soft skills’ of people management, some people just seem to get it. The research supports this. Certain traits work well for leadership and people management.  Good leaders and people managers are indeed born, apparently!

Here’s what the research suggests:

  • Leaders are genetically predisposed to a trait of social dominance.
  • Leadership behaviour is influenced by individual thinking styles.
  • Leaders draw from natural tendencies then develop skills to support them.

So there’s genetics, thinking styles, traits and then skill development required for leadership.  Does this apply to people management too?

Perhaps.  But most managers already know this. They probably also agree that people management and leadership are closely aligned.  And they know that their natural tendencies and skills must be enhanced and well managed. 

Effective people management is not about being born, or being made - but it is about the intersection of who you are and what you do. This is where people management and leadership do align.

Before you can identify who you are and what you do in relation to being responsible for others at work, it’s important to identify what people management and leadership actually mean to you and what your approach is to each, both theoretically and practically.  Be a little philosophical here.

I’ve done this. I’ve pondered the concept of people management and compared it to leadership, philosophically and theoretically.  My conclusion is that the purpose and the behaviours –the practical aspects - are much the same and they differ more theoretically than philosophically.  And, of course, they are labelled differently.  Does this cause confusion?

To be honest, I struggle with the very term ‘people management’.  I think this term itself is, in part, responsible for our confusion over what it means to be a good manager and leader.

Fundamentally, I reject the idea that people need to be managed – at least if the aim is to gain high performance.  I believe time, energy, knowledge, IT and other resources need to be well managed.  But I believe that people need to be inspired. 

Reflect on the last time you achieved something outstanding, when you really outdid yourself.  You were outstanding, I suspect, not because you were well managed but because you were inspired. 

There go the people.  I must follow them for I am their leader.’  This is confusing.  But it’s also wonderfully inspiring.

If I were to inspire someone, they would do what it is that they want to do, the way they want to do it, playing to their strengths.  Inspiration brings great performance, does it not?

Doing something to the best of your ability and playing to your strengths requires intrinsic motivation.  We don’t perform to our absolute best because we are managed.

The leader supports people, lifts them up and encourages them.  A leader allows them to manage their own time, knowledge, resources etc, rather than do it for them.  Perhaps the key to success is not people management per se but self-management. 

Arguably, each of us is responsible for our own self-management and those who are tasked with guiding achievement and success are responsible for support and leadership.  Perhaps there is no place for the concept of people-management at all.  Or maybe this is just a reflection of my idealism.

There’s no right or wrong here.  There are no absolutes.  When it comes to good people management, we draw from our strengths and our natural traits as well as highly developed skills.  But there is scope to develop your own, personalised approach to being a good people manager and a leader.  I cringe a little at the term ‘people management’.  That doesn’t mean that you should. 

Label your managerial responsibilities as you may.  But at the end of the day, never lose respect and consideration for the people who work with you, under your management and alongside your leadership.

People management matters. Leadership matters. 

For some managers these may look the same and for others they may not.  Either way, inspire people and then follow them.  Don’t demand that they follow you.  Don’t seek opportunities to ‘manage them’.  Give them the very best of you and they’ll call you their leader, not their people manager.  And they’ll take you with them wherever they go.