Are you a leader?

Perhaps you’ve just been assigned the role of Team Lead for your company’s software development project. Even though your new title has the word “Lead” in it, you may be doing a lot of managing of the project instead of leading. People often assume that leadership and management are the same, but they’re not. Managing usually involves planning and budgeting, problem solving, and creating consistency and order, but leading sets a direction, motivates and inspires, and helps people cope with change. Some people have compared the two roles by saying that a manager is appointed, but a leader is earned. To illustrate the difference, you’re probably already in a leadership role in some activities in your life: if you’re a parent, older sibling, volunteer in your community, or trainer/mentor for coworkers. In these roles, you also likely manage a number of things, such as the household budget, recreational schedules, and so forth. If you’d like to become known as more of a leader rather than manager at your work, there are a few things you can do to help move you in that direction.

1. Develop your self-awareness

To be able to lead others, you first have to know who you are. If you have a strong sense of your personal values, purpose, and vision, you can then put together a personal strategy, align your behaviour with your values and vision, and then take accountability for your actions as a leader. It can be helpful to sign up for a leadership course through continuing education or find activities online that can help you assess your personal preferences. One example is a D.I.S.C. profile, which stands for the four categories of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance. It measures where you place in each of the categories, and provides tips on how to work well with people who are in other categories. For example, people who are high in “Compliance” tend to be careful, objective, have high standards, and are good analysts, but they can sometimes be described as picky, fearful, or aloof. When dealing with people in this category, you should be prepared, use clear data, show how things fit in the bigger picture, and warn them about issues in order to avoid surprises. If you’ve ever wondered why certain types of people tend to work better with you, and how you can be a better influencer or motivator of people who don’t, doing exercises such as a D.I.S.C. profile can help you better understand not only yourself but the people you work with (the information about D.I.S.C. was from MacEwan University’s Foundations of Leadership course, but you can also find similar continuing education courses at other universities, and more details about activities such as the D.I.S.C. profile are available online).

2. Write a personal mission statement

A personal mission statement tells yourself and others what you want to accomplish, what you want to focus on, or who you want to become over the next few years. It not only helps you focus your energy and decisions on what is most important to you, but it also helps give you a clear sense of your purpose and who you are. Here are some examples of what a personal mission statement might look like:

“To… [what you want to achieve, do or become] so that… [reasons why it is important]. I will do this by… [specific behaviours or actions that you can use to get there].”

“I value… [choose one to three values] because… [reasons why these values are important to you]. Accordingly, I will… [what you can do to live by these values].”

“To live each day with… [choose one to three values or principles] so that… [what living by these values will give you]. I will do this by… [specific behaviours you will use to live by these values].” (from MacEwan University’s Foundations of Leadership course)

Mission statements do change as your goals and values evolve, so it is something you will go back to and reflect on periodically.

3. Make a leadership development plan

After reflecting on your values and mission, you should make a plan that establishes your learning priorities, a schedule for when you will focus on your leadership development, and how you will address potential obstacles. Becoming a better leader is an ongoing process that takes time and a lot of personal reflection, but it is definitely worth it!