You have leaders in your organisation, but do you have leadership?


Karen Schmidt

By Karen Schmidt – November 2016
Leaders and leadership are not the same thing, even though the two terms are often used interchangeably. In order for your organisation to grow, you need both. So what is leadership, why does it matter and how do you help the people who run your organisation to develop this important skill set?

What’s the difference?

Learning to be a leader is about helping individuals develop the personal skills they need to operate in their role whilst training in leadership is about providing people with the social skills required to become part of a well functioning leadership team.

Let’s look at the concept using my Workplace Gardening philosophy. Professional gardeners rarely operate in isolation. They usually work as part of a team that looks after a larger patch. Each gardener may be responsible for a different area but they all know that their goal is to create a unified garden that works together.

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How it helps

Without leadership, your leaders will find the going tough especially if they are new to their role. They can feel isolated and pressured to “keep up appearances” as they see their fellow leaders as competitors rather than comrades. Disputes can arise as leaders come into conflict with each other over a variety of issues with resulting turf wars.

A leadership approach sets up an environment that encourages your leaders to work together rather than simply focus on their own patch. This allows them to make the most of limited resources and ensure their actions don’t interfere with what is going on elsewhere in your workplace garden. A team of gardeners works best when everyone has a shared vision of what they are trying to create and agrees on the best way to achieve that vision. You can’t have a gardener in Section A wanting to be chemical free if the gardening in Section B next door is spraying chemicals on their plants.

It is exactly the same for your leadership team. How often do you see inconsistent leadership in an organisation? For example, one leader allowing staff flexibility whilst the next is strictly adhering to the rules. Who is right and who is wrong? What impact does this have on the engagement levels of staff in each team? With a consistent approach to leadership these issues disappear.

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Developing leadership in your organisation

To move your leaders from a group of individuals to a cohesive leadership team who can all work together takes time. Along the way they will go through three stages as they come to see the benefits of a leadership approach.

Individual focus

  • What do my people need?
  • How can I get the resources we need?
  • What are our goals?

Group focus

  • What does my department, division or location need?
  • How can we share resources in our area?
  • What are our goals?

Organisation focus

  • What does the organisation need?
  • How can the organisation best use its resources?
  • What are the organisation’s goals?

So how do you encourage this transition from a focus on individual functions to a focus on the organisation as a whole? They say what matters gets measured so the first thing you need to do is add the ability to work as part of the leadership team to the performance criteria of all your leaders. You need to embed the idea of leadership early on so ensure the concept is included in any training you offer your emerging leaders.

Next time you look around at the leaders in your organisation, think about whether you also have leadership because it will make all the difference to your success.

About the Author

Karen Schmidt from Let’s Grow! is widely recognised as THE frontline leadership expert.

Having worked with over 20 industries in 8 countries, the senior leaders she meets tell her that most leadership development programs they’ve tried don’t work. She has a process that does. Originally a Human Resources practitioner, Karen has been nurturing frontline leaders for more than 20 years. Her experience comes from working with organisations of all shapes and sizes.

To add to her practical experience she holds a degree in Adult Education, formal qualifications in Human Resource Management and is the author of 4 books including “Greenhousing: nurturing the next crop of leaders” and “Green Thumb Leader: how to grow from a frontline manager into a frontline leader”.

Today she works with current and future leaders across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. Her clients include corporates, government, professional associations, not for profits and small businesses.

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