NOTE: The following is a guest post by Blathnaid McGill. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.
You don’t need to be an academic scholar to know that much has already been said and written about leadership. You could fill a small library with books on leadership development and related topics. Nevertheless, the world continues to look for qualities that define a leader. There are, quite obviously a few must have’s. A leader has to lead by example, his/her actions must be decisive and must reflect a certain level of integrity, his/her dedication and commitment towards the ultimate goal must be able to inspire followers and his/her humility should bring out the best in everyone.
Manager vs. Leader
Having listed these qualities, a distinction needs to be made between a manager and a leader. Essentially, a leader has to be much more than a manager. While a manager’s primary concern is strategic deployment of work, a leader has to be innovative even when it comes to administration. A good leader works with a long term vision in mind while a manager usually focuses on an immediate goal. Quite simply then, a leader has a much more challenging role to play than a manager.
First things first, anyone hoping to develop leadership skills should choose the niche they are most comfortable with. This choice depends on factors both emotional and rational. It goes without saying that you must feel passionately about your chosen field if you hope to excel as leader in it but at the same time, your choice has to be guide by practicality as well. Ask yourself if you are suited for the particular field or if your personality is more conducive to some other field. Once you have made this choice, you can start working on the required attributes particular to that field.
Having said that, leadership development is not merely about following a set of prescribed rules; it has a lot to do with evaluating and contextualising a particular situation and devising a plan according to it. To have a greater impact, a leader has to be flexible. She has to have the ability to prioritise the larger goal above all other concerns. So, a good leader may adopt a style of leadership she is otherwise not comfortable with if the situation so demands it. The key lies in striking a balance between what you want to do and what is expected of you. It is not really an either/or choice between your personal preferences and contextual requirements, you have to blend them in just the right proportions.
Essential Leadership Qualities
Much is said of humility as an essential leadership quality. Every person who wants to improve his/her leadership skills must learn to temper this humility with ruthless practicality. If you try to please everyone, you are basically writing your own recipe for disaster. Begin by accepting that your actions might offend certain people but this must not stop you from making the right choices.
In terms of product management, leadership qualities play a big role. It is easy to assume that product management is isolated around the product itself but it involves possessing cross-functional leadership skills. Improving on an existing product, for example, cross–functional managers need to be able to interpret the company’s business plan as well as recognise the skills of employees in addition to establishing what the customer/market needs. It is about expanding the existing tools you have and using them to improve your product.
Finally then, there is only so much that can be formally taught about leadership. A lot of it comes from instinct and experience. Every time you are faced with a difficult situation, try to remember if you have handled anything similar before. Take tips from your own past but remember to modify your course of action according to present demands. And if you find yourself lacking information or unable to make a decision, never be afraid to seek help. After all, every leader started out as a novice.
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Blathnaid Magill has an MBS in Electronic Business from University College Cork and has an interest in business and technology trends. Blathnaid is currently writing on behalf of QA who are current frontrunners in leadership development.