Last month’s column focused on statisticians and their need to transition to leaders. In order to do so, one must understand the difference between managing work/projects and leading others.

Globalization and accelerating technology have dramatically impacted our daily activities. Instead of just going to work and performing our tasks well, we actually have three jobs: doing the work, getting desired results and improving how we do the work.

The nature of work roles is reflected in the activities required to run our organizations: managing and leading. Fundamentally, there is a fine line between managers and leaders. Managers make sure the work gets done while leaders make sure the work gets done differently and better. Managers work to sustain improvements while leaders work to create improvements. Essentially managers manage processes while leaders lead change. 

It is actually a myth that leadership is a rare skill, inborn and restricted to a select group. Many assume leaders must be charismatic and enjoy controlling, directing, and manipulating others. Quality professionals who wish to move to an expanded role must look past these myths to understand what leaders really do and create greater value.

To have any chance of success, leadership has to be practiced in a way that not only changes processes and business but also helps people embrace change. Effective leaders do this through at least five main practices.

1. Create the Vision. Understand that not all matters of strategies and vision are left up to senior managers. Certainly they are primarily responsible for overall direction but as Dr. J.M. Juran taught us, “All improvement takes place project by project…” But Juran further stressed that projects, no less than the overall strategy, need vision and direction.

Once you have selected or been assigned a project, you must determine what success will look like, how it will be achieved, where to focus resources, and the specific initiatives to be undertaken to support the overall strategy. It is while at the helm of such projects that leadership skills are developed and recognized.

2. Set the Course. Provide a clear understanding of where you intend to lead your team, why this direction is important, and what are the expectations to be experienced along the way. It’s important to communicate continuously, honestly, consistently, and concisely so that everyone understands the focus as things progress. This might sound sophomoric, but it’s amazing how often projects fail to get translated into easily understandable goals with clear metrics and milestones. 

3. Lead for Success. Many organizations invest just enough for an initiative to fail. Such failures, especially the failure to invest in training and development, suggest a short-term perspective. Enable success and create appropriate expectation by providing training and leadership to build employee skills needed for success now and in the future.

Do not lead by words alone. According to the ancient Chinese warlord Sun Tzu, “One must lead with actions, not just words.” Wise leaders constantly look for ways to reflect back the priorities contained in the vision as a reminder of where the group needs to focus.

4. Measure Success. It is a truism of business that you can’t manage what you do not measure. Even though most would agree, it never ceases to amaze the number of times organizations claim to be ‘mission driven’ but they do not measure their progress against key milestones. A real challenge to leadership is to align measurements with the overall strategy and milestones to achieve success. Keep them simple and visible.

5. Recognize Effort. There is also a truism that what gets rewarded gets done. To sustain momentum and achieve results, leaders appropriately recognize accomplishments. Smart leaders understand the value of striking a balance among financial (raises, bonuses, etc.), psychological (praise, awards, etc.), and professional (job enrichment, special training, etc.). 

Wise leaders make generous use of non-monetary awards, especially praise and respect, to motivate people. It is ironic, though, that surveys constantly show that what people crave the most, sincere respect and recognition, and that costs the least to do, are the very things that poor leaders seem the most reluctant to dispense.

Despite the myth that leaders are born, not made, quality professionals can certainly learn and employ leadership skills. In order to demonstrate these skills look for opportunities that surround you every day. Do not wait for someone to ‘call your name.’ Be aware of what’s happening in your organization, raise your hand, and seize those opportunities. Start small but think big. After all, you have much to gain and little to lose.