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Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln are all iconic figures from history. They were inspirational leaders and are still revered by millions, but great leaders are no longer confined to the history books. Great leaders are fundamental to modern business success and they are everywhere, in your favorite coffee shop, leading a meeting of pre-school teachers, and at the head of the most influential companies in the world.  Is there a difference between a manager and a leader? Or is it just a case of re-branding? And, does it matter? 

A Change in Focus

There was a time when the primary focus in the workplace was on getting things done. A manager’s role was to oversee tasks, achieve goals, reach targets and minimize costs. Managers were recruited or promoted from within a team because they had the relevant technical knowledge, skills, and experience to get the job done.

In today’s business world, what needs to be done is still important but it shares center stage with how things are done. The modern team leader is recruited largely for her behavioral competence. Take a look at a job advertisement for an average team leader role. The essential skills required section is filled with phrases such as communicating effectively, working positively with others, or encouraging others to be the best.

The Role of the Modern Team Leader

The behavioral competency of a modern team leader enables them to carry out an ever-expanding remit. Team leaders have become counselors resolving work-based problems, and developers who coach individuals to improve performance. They now have to appraise that performance and offer feedback on how to improve. Motivate their teams with their enthusiasm, encouraging and supporting the team’s efforts. When things go well they must offer praise, but praise in the right way so it is meaningful, useful, and adds value to the team.

Tasks must be assessed and allocated in the traditional way but must be delivered by a strong communicator who ensures the team are well informed and understand what is expected. They must also be strong role models, leading by example by displaying positive behaviors that they require from the team.     

What does this mean in practice? A leader may display their strong communication skills and ability to motivate by rallying a team at a successful meeting. However, a strong leader recognizes that these high-profile activities are only meaningful if they also take care of the little things.

Saying hello to your staff on the way to the office in the morning rather than striding in and shutting the door. Remembering people’s names and even remembering the names of their children says to people ‘you matter’. If you show someone they are important instead of just telling someone they will listen when there is something big to say. 

Why it Matters

Perceptions of leadership and management are diverse and often based on personal experience. The traditional manager has served businesses well for decades; however, the role has changed. In recent years, an unpredictable business world has been dominated by economic instability, technological advancement, and changing customer expectations. Managers can no longer focus solely on the task ahead. They must inspire people and develop talent to create a flexible, innovative, and ethical workforce. The organizations that demand strong leaders are the ones who will be able to drive forward through the hard times and succeed.

So next time you visit your favorite coffee shop; the one that you have visited for the past few years, the one you tell all your friends about because the manager says hello every morning and the staff is so helpful and cheerful. Consider, is it run by a great manager or a great team leader?