The words “leader” and “manager” are often used interchangeably, but they are very different words.  Many organizations refer to their executive team as their “leadership team”.  Some call us and ask for “leadership training” when they really want “management training”.  It’s not surprising that these two words are confused with each other, because the word “leader” has been used in so many different ways.  Nobody owns the “right” definition of leadership, but we have found one definition to be more useful than others.


Leadership is simply influence.


When a person on a team has a positive attitude, they are influencing other people on their team.  At the same time, when a person on a team has a negative attitude, they are also influencing other people on their team.  Both people are leaders because they are influential, which leads to two surprising conclusions:


1.  Everyone is a Leader – Anyone who works with other people is a leader.  Even the quiet person who doesn’t speak up in meetings and flies under the radar influences the rest of the team.  


2.  Leaders Aren’t Always Good – Some people influence others in a negative direction.  This is a different way of thinking about leadership as we traditionally think of being a leader as being a positive trait.  However, who judges whether the influence is truly positive or not?  By thinking about leadership as influence, it also allows us to realize that many of the most effective leaders sometimes use their powers in a negative way, intentionally or unintentionally.


Managers are certainly influential.  In fact, all other things being equal, a manager is often more influential in many ways than an employee because of their position of authority.  Management is about authority.  A manager is assigned and has power to get others to do what they need.  Leaders are unassigned and have to use their own influence to get others to act.  These two ideas are different, but not incongruent.


Good managers use leadership as a tool.  They don’t have to use their authority very often because they engage their team members to build ownership and alignment.  They recognize that their team is always watching them and they demonstrate positive behaviors in their actions and in their words.  


Bad managers can be very strong leaders.  We worked with an organization that had a very popular manager who also happened to hate his job and the company.  The employees who worked for this manager were fiercely loyal to the manager, who was effectively leading an internal revolt inside the company the was unhealthy for everyone involved.  When this manager had a bad day, his employees would follow.  Eventually, the manager quit his job followed by several of his employees.  While the manager was good at his job, the company’s culture immediately improved upon the departure of his highly effective toxicity.  (By the way, the manager also ended up happier working for a different company).  


Leadership is about influence and everyone has the opportunity to influence others on a regular basis.  Since you are a leader, you have to decide how you will lead others.  If you don’t feel great about your job or how things are going, you should be particularly careful about how you influence other people for you may be leading them into your negativity.  


Most people want to develop into a more effective leader, but I would offer that it is more important to first develop into a more positive leader.  


What kind of influence do you want to have on your team?