For many women, the biggest step they will take in their career is the giant step from manager to leader.
What's the difference between the two? In essence, managers exercise control while leaders command authority … managers implement strategies while leaders create the vision … managers evaluate quality, leaders set standards ... managers forge alliances, leaders build trust and integrity.
Recognizing the difference between management and leadership can offer invaluable direction in how to begin to behave like a leader. The key is to start rehearsing now so that you can step into the top role the moment there's an opening. Here are some suggestions to accomplish that objective:
Establish and communicate clear, meaningful goals. When people know what is expected of them, they generally meet or exceed expectations. The key is to be clear about the expectations. People trust more when they know what the deliverables are and when they must be delivered. As a leader, you will be measured by results, and you yourself will measure the people under you by their results. That's why it's so crucial to establish and articulate clear, meaningful goals. It's the only way people will buy into your program; it's the only way they'll accomplish the tasks you set for them.
Build trust through action. How do you get people to follow you into unknown territory? Even more important, how do you get them to follow your command while you remain behind arranging for resources and support? The answer is trust. And to achieve trust you need to demonstrate that you're worthy of people's confidence. There are many ways to do this. In addition to providing people with the resources and support they need, show them that you care about them and their problems by seeking them out and helping them address any issues they may have. Also, give people recognition; publicly acknowledge their accomplishments and initiative. And maintain discipline, even when it means getting rid of people who do not fulfill their jobs. They can drag down the entire team.
Practice the competitive edge, then delegate. One very good way to show people you care and to recognize their abilities is to delegate responsibility to them. And once you do delegate, give them the resources to do the job, then get out of the way and let them do it. The company will keep its competitive edge as long as its people keep their competitive edge. It's your job as a leader to instill in the team the energy, excellence, execution, and enthusiasm of competitiveness. It may be your most important job and your most valuable contribution as a leader.
Recognize that the buck stops with you. Authority is lonely -- no doubt about it. That is the nature of the beast: The final decision is yours and it is up to you to make sure everyone knows it and to make sure, at the same time, that everyone knows you value the input they can provide to that final decision-making process. Seek information from formal and informal sources, but know when enough information has been gathered to make a decision. If anything, some women tend to gather more information than is necessary to make decisions; it's a reflection of their fundamental nurturing instincts to get input from all sides. Use the strength of your women's instinct for gathering wide-ranging, creative input. But teach yourself to recognize the moment when you must assume the authority to cut off discussion, and say, "Thanks, all. Now it's up to me." When you are able to do this, you are on your way to becoming a leader.