ast week, among all of the adjustments to working from home and the video conference calls and the never-ending flood of emails, I got a promotion at work. It’s not a huge deal, just the next rung up on the corporate ladder, but it was a recognition of a particularly hard year of work culminating in one of the hardest months of work.
One of the things that I like about my day job is that they do a fairly good job of providing resources and training to managers in the business. It’s certainly not a master’s degree program or anything, but it is some time dedicated to working on yourself and building out a new set of skills.
I work in Information Technology and this year I will be entering my 20th year in that field. I started at the bottom of that career like most IT people do – on the help desk. One of the worst jobs someone can have, not just in IT, but in any career. Answering a never-ending flood of calls with “have you tried turning it off and on again?” But day after day, month after month, for years. At nearly every step of the way, I was tapped for some sort of managerial position. Lead. Supervisor. Senior. The titles were irrelevant, but it seemed to call to me to be able to not only do my job well, but to also help others succeed along the way. It was often without any training or direction. Just, “hey, help manage that team of people.” It was similar to how you did group projects in middle school, or labs in college. The managers just kind of rose to the call.
For a long time, I just thought that was managing. Leading. Supervising. The terms were synonymous. Until I started taking some leadership courses at my current work over the past seven years. One day, the speaker asked us to define “manager.” Simple, right? It’s the person in charge of making decisions for the team. The leader. Then the instructor asked us to define “leader.” Unfazed, I said it was the person in charge of making decisions for the team. The leader.
During that course, it was presented to us that managers and leaders are occasionally the same thing. But often, they are very different. Managers or supervisors direct teams with the prescribed power and title of a leader. But a true leader can achieve goals regardless of their power or title. One is natural while the other is manufactured. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. But in key situations, it matters a great deal.
This distinction has never been more apparent than over the past several weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. Mayors and governors and presidents bark and call out orders using the authority vested in them through their titles. But look more closely to see who is truly leading. You’ll see those people clear as day. Sometimes those are the same mayors and governors and presidents, but often they are doctors or captains or simple, everyday folks just trying to achieve a goal.
My definitions of leaders and supervisors changed thanks to my training and now it is very clear to me who is doing the leading and who is simply directing. The directors are the ones shouting the loudest asking for those to follow because “director” is what the nameplate says on the door. The leaders are those who people naturally look to when a crisis is happening because they’re the ones you want leading you out of a burning building when the walls are caving in.
Look more closely at who you’re following in this crisis. Are they supervising, or leading?
(Follow Chris Kamler on Twitter as @TheFakeNed and catch him on Landmark Live at Platte County Landmark on Facebook)