I interviewed the owner of a mid-sized engineering firm from this point forward referred to as Jack. Jack has been in the engineering field over 30 years starting as a project engineer and has worked his way to owning his own company. He has no formal training or degree in management or leadership and is speaking from experience. For Jack the definition of leadership is to guide and direct. He compares a manager in business to a platoon leader who can lead a group of people in a productive manor to achieve a desired outcome. When guiding these employees or soldiers the use of direct consequence or praise is the best way to guide your followers to the desired goal. Jack believes that most employees need close watch and a tight leash as to not fall off task. When Jack was asked what characterizes a good leader he continued to refer to the military example, even though he has never served. He believes there are two main components of a strong leader, wisdom and people skills. With wisdom you will have a strong knowledge of the tasks or products offered and are able to assist in problem solving.
Along with wisdom Jack believes that you will be able to make informed decisions and stay ahead of the market. People skills are the second part of Jacks components for a strong leader. When a leader has strong people skills he can relay his wisdom in an effective manner to employees so they can complete the desired task. He also believes that strong problem solving skills come along with people skills; you should be able to mediate an issue between employees or a client in a way as to not effect production or lose a client. Jack believes that situation plays a role in leadership. This is what separates strong leaders from the average. A strong leader can be placed in most any situation and be successful. If a mediocre leader is put into a simple or familiar situation they could be interpreted as a strong leader but will fail when tested.
He also states that there are a few situations where even the strongest most experienced leaders will fail. The example of a pilot, seconds from destruction, could direct and organize his crew to the best of anyone’s ability and yet still fatally crash. This relates to business during market downturns and changes in technology. If you have too much expense and debt during a downturn or your only product has just been rendered obsolete by a new technology, there is not much you can do. When asked about the followers he prefers to refer to them as “the team” and they need to work together if they are going to be lead well. Although when asked if a strong leader can take “bad” followers and still accomplish a common goal, he believes it can be done. Jack still refers back to the military, when grunts come in general infantry they are generally “bad” followers but a strong leader can bring them together, have them work as a group and agree to go to war together.
In Jack’s career he has encountered good and bad followers, some needing a lot of structure and others which could be trusted to complete the work with minimal supervision. Jack has a very “laid back” style of leadership and with some employees this became an issue because they took advantage of the freedom. In Jacks experience leaders can be trained but there is a small group that will never be a good leader. In society he believes there is a very large “middle ground” of people who can be trained to accomplish anything they set their mind to. He thinks that some great leaders are born that way and it comes much more effortlessly than for others. That being said, if one of the “middle ground” individuals had the desire and training they too can rise to be a great leader and accomplish great things. In general Jack believes that great leaders can either be born or trained to achieve the highest level of leadership and that there is a small group of individuals that un-salvageable.
After this interview I think Jack has a understanding of what makes a leader but still has leaning to do. First and foremost leadership is a process and not just a single tactic to achieve a single goal. It is the development of relationships between the leader and the followers along with the relationships between the followers themselves. Through these emotional connections a leader can work with a group of followers and accomplish great things even when situation may be very difficult. I found it very interesting when talking about the characteristics of a strong leader Jack’s first response is wisdom, which I believe he relates to intelligence. Intelligence is a very large factor in being a strong leader but being inspiring is just as important. Being a “people person” does not make you a good leader. An individual can be very kind and a good listener but unless they can inspire a group of people to work together for a common goal they will not be effective.
Jack believes that leaders can be trained to accomplish a high level of success much like the ones that are natural leaders. This is idea is in line with academics that leadership can be classically trained and not only gained by experience. Another issue with Jacks interpretation of leadership is how a strong leader can improve an already good situation. He sees that strong leaders can handle most situations and accomplish necessary tasks but fails to acknowledge that the entire dynamic is related. His views seem negative towards a leader with a good group of followers and a positive situation, that with a strong or marginal leader you will have the same result. I disagree with this idea and believe with a strong leader you can have increased productivity and quality of product. It also seems that Jack thinks all managers are leaders which is not the case. Managers and leaders have many of the same characteristics but hold different roles within a company.
Managers are there to provide guidance and accomplish a short term goal or task whereas a leader is there to inspire and create a challenging vision for the long term success of a company. True leaders will be introspective as they learn from experience. This is known as the action-observation-reflection model in which a leader will take an experience and give it additional attention to learn as much as possible. First you must review the action that caused the experience, then review the outcome of that action and finally determine how you feel about the outcome. When using this method reviewing a situation one can gain a great deal of knowledge to apply in the future. Jack also seems to have fundamental attribution error when reflecting on why he considers an employee to be bad. He has a bias that when an employee is not functioning at their full capacity it is only due to them taking advantage of him and his method of management.
He fails to see if there could be any outside factors causing these behaviors; for example, if an employee is also a student who in enrolled in a very difficult course may appear to be leaving early and “taking advantage” when in fact they just have a class to attend. This could be easily remedied by offering a flexible schedule where the employee could begin their work day a little earlier. This also relates to the self serving bias where this employee could hold Jack responsible for not performing in class instead of realizing they didn’t dedicate enough time out of class for study. Jack also believes that to be a good leader you must be very proficient in the task at hand. The academics disagree with this idea and note that the higher level of management the less technical knowledge you must have.
This is where vision and inspiration become extremely important to guide your followers to success. In conclusion Jack has learned well from his years of experience but there is still room for growth in his knowledge of leadership and management, especially the difference between the two. Something that would greatly help improve the quality of management and leadership within the company would be using some assessment the leaders. This could be accomplished by having a questionnaire rating the leader by the superiors and subordinates. This method would help understand the performance of the leader as assessed by the superior and the effectiveness as provided by the subordinate’s questionnaire.
Courtney from Study Moose
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