Why That Leadership Book Won't Make You a Better Leader

Understanding the Difference Between Leadership and Management
row of wooden business people with leader lifted up

Have you ever sat back and thought about where leaders come from? If you were asked what a leader is, you could probably rattle off some traits or characteristics that an individual may possess that would make them a leader. You likely have identified these leadership traits as something you wished you possessed so you could be a better leader.

Maybe you’ve read books by John Maxwell, Patrick Lencioni, and Simon Sinek so you can grow as a leader. Leadership has become a billion dollar industry with books, videos, trainings and workshops offered all over the world. While these authors and hundreds like them have written some good books, each describes leadership from his or her perspective.

The greater question is whether this is actually leadership, or is it management development?

Aren’t management and leadership the same?

Not really. While managers can be leaders, the idea that managers are automatically leaders is “positional leadership” and is extremely ineffective.

If you compare managers and leaders, there are some key distinctions. For example, managers are administrators. They tend to copy what others have done. There is an emphasis placed on systems and structures, and they focus on doing things right.

These are good practices, but they fail to take into consideration the people you are leading, the need for continual growth to stay relevant, and the need to do the right thing.

It may be counterintuitive, but all these leadership books and workshops actually perpetuate management.

Consider this: You pick up the John Maxwell book with his 27 laws for some kind of better leadership. You read and process the book, take the information, and formulate a plan to introduce Maxwell’s ideas into your organization. You feel good that you’ve been able to implement this Maxwellian approach to leadership.

You have taken someone else’s plan and copied it. Now your role is to administer the plan outlined by Maxwell’s book to do what you perceive to be the right thing. By doing this, you are acting as a manager – not a leader.

These books are not a complete waste of time. They can foster leadership. But in order to develop as a leader, we first have to understand two key concepts of leadership:

1. Leadership comes from within every one of us

Leadership is a conglomeration of the experiences and perspectives that shape us, as well as how we perceive and react to situations. There are moment in our lives that leadership will step out and show itself to the masses.

Consider the “Miracle on the Hudson,” in which Chelsley “Sully” Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, saving all 155 passengers. Many believed that landing was an impossible task, but his experience as an Air Force pilot and nearly 30 years as a commercial pilot prepared him to make the decision to make that heroic landing. It was Sully’s situational experience and his understanding of self that created a miracle rather than a tragedy.

2. Leadership is about how we influence people

If you think back on the people who you consider leaders, ask yourself why you followed them. Most likely, they influenced you either in your career choice, on the athletic field, in selecting a partner for life, or some other manner that is important to you. A leader influences you by challenging you, investing time in you, and doing right by you.

So back to the point about leadership books …

When you pick up that leadership book, there is going to be a great deal of good information in it, but we cannot treat a book as a blueprint for our leadership development. We have to take that information and incorporate it into our life based on our perspectives. What works for one person will not help another be a better leader, because their values are different, their experiences are different, and what they find important is different.

Take some time and develop an idea of what kind of leader you want to be and then look at the books, movies, and workshops that will help influence you, so you can best influence the people around you.

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