I believe there is a big difference between being a manager and being a leader.
A manager’s job is to plan, organize and coordinate. A leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.
I can recall a conversation early on in my career about management versus leadership with a U.S. Marine and a long-time trucking journalist, Bob Deierlein, who has since become a dear friend.
To help me clearly understand the difference between a manager and a leader, Deierlein stated that the Marines consider leadership the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding and moral character that allow a person to inspire and control a group of people successfully.
No organization can rise above the quality of its leadership, he said. The character of the leaders is essential.
Traits that made for a successful leader was the topic of an address by Donald R. Knauss, chairman and CEO of the Clorox Company, to this year’s Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week event.
Knauss, who served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, knows about leadership. During his career, he has established himself as a change agent, bringing entire organizations with him.
Leadership is about rallying people to a better future, he said. That involves focusing on two key elements: thought leadership - energizing the future, and people leadership - energizing others in the vision for the future.
Knauss outlined five key traits of successful leaders:
- Integrity. There has to be an adherence to moral and ethical principles. Build trust. Tell the truth. Do the right. Are you proud of yourself? A handshake should be enough. “It’s all about character,” said Knauss.
- Curiosity. “Ideas drive organizations and progress,” he said. “World-class leaders are world-class learners.”
Knauss stressed the importance of creating a safe environment for debate because as a person moves up in an organization, the ability to get the truth becomes more difficult.
“A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world,” he said. “You’ve got to get out and be curious to understand what is going on.”
- Optimism. Lead from optimism because it nurtures dreamers and expands possibilities.
“Optimism creates positive energy throughout the organization,” Knauss said. “Pessimism engages no one.
“Optimists are problem-solvers because they are always looking for that better way.”
- Compassion. “Have more concern for your people than yourself,” said Knauss. “When people know that, it’s amazing what they will do for you.”
He said the spirit of the law is as important as the letter of the law. To emphasize his point, he paraphrased Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose novels chronicled the daily horrors of life in Soviet gulags: “Any society based solely on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the full possibilities of the human experience.”
Because life is not fair, Knauss said successful leaders use their power to make it fair. “Each of us has the ability to make things a little bit more fair.
“Tough love is required, too. We all have to make tough decisions. But if it’s done transparently, and you involve other people in those decisions, the right outcome will be there.”
- Humility. Successful leaders use authority, not power. Rather than ordering people around, talk to them and explain what you want to get done, said Knauss. “It’s amazing how much more they will get done.”
“Be approachable. You’ll learn what’s really going on.”
Don’t think you are indispensable, but don’t discount your own importance, Knauss said. “People are always observing what we are doing as leaders.”
Focus on those five traits - integrity, curiosity, optimism, compassion and humility - and you “can truly inspire people and organizations” to be productive and valuable, emphasized Knauss.
Bringing his address to a close, he mentioned baseball great Jackie Robinson, the first African American athlete to play in baseball’s major leagues in the 20th century, joining the old Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Knauss noted that epitaph on Robinson’s tombstone had nothing to do with baseball. It reads: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
“That,” concluded Knauss, “is what leadership is all about at the end of the day.”