Leadership, Management or Employee: Is There a Difference?

Throughout my military and corporate career, I’ve struggled with people using titles to define the roles of other people and their impact on the organization. What does it mean to be in a leadership role, and who conveyed the title of “leader” on any person? Is a leader a person high up on the organization chart, or a person of character or someone who is honest and truthful?


Lao Tzu, a famous Chinese Philosopher, said. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” In most organizations, a position on an organizational chart defines responsibilities, not leadership. My definition of leadership is a person’s ability to help others achieve what they never thought possible, even though they always had the capability to achieve it.


Leaders speak the truth even when it hurts or is uncomfortable. They seek wisdom and understanding of the issues even when others have a vested interest in the outcome. They are ethical in their approach. A true leader is compassionate and understanding, someone who is concerned about others and the challenges and difficulties that they are facing.


To be a leader you must have followers. Spend time talking with people in your department; they know what’s working well and what needs attention. Don’t be surprised if employees are hesitant to speak in detail. Until trust is established, getting to the root cause of any problem will take time. People will be reluctant to speak the truth for many different reasons. It takes time to gain trust, but you can lose it in a minute. The people in the office or on the shop floor know what is working, what is not working and the reasons why.


A real-world experience from my career offers a good example.  We had just installed a very technical toothpaste line. As we prepared to post job bids, we decided to operate without a supervisor, although we had no experience with this approach. We let the team of about six people decide who would be responsible for day-to-day operations. All went exceptionally well until a key member went on sick leave.


The next morning, at 7:30, the lead member of the team came to my office and said that the current team would continue to operate all elements of the production process without adding additional staff. I had serious concerns about this strategy but approved the request. I and other staff members spent more time in that production department.  Three weeks later, the team member returned from sick leave. I knew that we could operate without this person. It was an easy decision to let this team member return to her previous position.


Leaders can be found in every part of your organization. There are many more examples of leaders stepping forward. Some might say I was giving up responsibility, but I realized that the more I gave up, the more involved I became. My motto – Trust but Verify.