Members of LinkedIn are bombarded with memes and motivational pictures. Between the Ned Stark photos and the cool car pictures, everyone seems to think they have your answer to management issues. There’s one in particular that is excruciatingly common. It goes something like this:
“When I talk to Managers I get the feeling they are important. When I talk to Leaders I get the feeling I am important.”
There are hundreds of variations and motivational quotes that follow the theme, and there’s no question of the validity of the statements. It’s true that a manager instructs their team to accomplish a task. Aptly, a leader accomplishes the task alongside their team.
There’s a missing link in nearly every picture, meme, motivational quote, and encouraging statement, not to mention in the (lack of) management training materials at the dealership. While everyone knows there’s a qualitative difference between managers and leaders, no one tells us how to implement it.
What does it actually LOOK like to be a leader instead of a manager? You can find the inward personality traits that each typically has in books all over the place, and in articles on LinkedIn and professional resource sites everywhere. But how does it manifest in the people who are great leaders instead of just good managers?
Let’s start small. I began my automotive career like many others – in the detail bay. I washed every car that came through the doors, summer or winter. The crusty tower operator was my direct supervisor and it was obvious why he wasn’t exactly the most liked person in the building. He was aggressive and demanding.
The thing is, when I wasn’t doing something quite right, he would jump in and show me how to do it right. Whether there was a more efficient way of cleaning floor mats or my soap mix wasn’t right, he wouldn’t just tell me what to do to fix it – he’d show me. Often, more than once.
And when I was in the weeds, he was there to catch me up. It wasn’t his actual job to do it, but he saw a need and came to my aid. I can remember cleaning the windows on a smoker’s car three times before it was satisfactory, and only with his help so production wasn’t held up. On busy winter days when vehicles iced up as soon as the water spray hit them, he’d pull the next vehicle in for me so it could warm up.
At the time, I didn’t think of him as a leader, just a jerk. But he taught me skills – not just car washing skills – that I continue to use to this day. The biggest one – you’re never too big to help those below you.
A few years later, I displayed interest enough to work my way up as a service advisor. A couple years in that role left me wanting a bit more, and I threw my name in the hat for a vacancy for the tower operator. My manager at the time was hesitant. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, because I was a scant 22 years old. I was still wet behind the ears and had much to learn.
Maybe no one else wanted the job, or maybe I was actually the best candidate. Whatever the reason, I took the seat in the tower and did quite well at it…in time. See, the manager knew that an inexperienced and young team member in such a crucial role would take time to get up to speed. Knowing this, he took the educated chance, fully aware there would be part of the burden he’d have to shoulder himself.
I’ve never worked for a more patient person. It’s only now, from the outside looking in, that I see how much of the load he must’ve bore while I was getting up to speed. The lesson he taught has also stuck – when you’re a leader, you carry part of everyone’s load so the team succeeds.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned came from the DOC. Rather, from the person who introduced me to the DOC. Again, as a youthful tower operator, I was quite successful with the numbers. My role included claiming labor times and quoting estimates for repairs, and I was great at getting every .1 submitted and paid. And then I heard about all the background numbers…
The DOC opened my eyes. It’s like going from the production line at a LEGO plant, making one rectangular red brick for years on end. Then one day, you discover all the amazing and complex structures LEGO can build, and with so much more than just your red bricks. The DOC helped me discover WHAT numbers were actually important and WHY we do things and WHERE the money goes and WHO is having a great month and WHEN we needed to pull up our socks. And my manager showed me HOW it all tied together.
The lesson I took away from the manager wasn’t actually to do with the DOC itself, although it made me much better at my job and every role I’ve held since. The lesson I learned was to train the person below you for your job. It’s a military mentality. If something happens to you “in the field”, your team should be able to carry on with hardly a stutter. If everything falls apart when you are absent, that would be considered a failure in my eyes.
There have been dozens of managers that I’ve worked with and worked for that haven’t been nearly as involved in shaping my career. They were the ones who instructed and commanded without explaining the WHY in the process. If you want to see better results from your team members, give them a glimpse into what they’re working toward. That could be revealing certain parts of the financial statements, or it might be more pedestrian like explaining your expectations for the coming month. If you’re grooming someone for your position when you move up or move out, let them know – it tells them you value them and gives them a goal to work towards.
Where do you put yourself in the spectrum of managers or leaders? Give your anecdotes and personal wins/fails as a manager or leader. Find encouragement and inspiration in the stories you hear from your peers.