It is charisma, it is strength, it is communication, it is vision, it is listening, it is being there, it is calm, it is connecting, it is trust, faith, and beliefTrust, faith, and belief. These are all words for the same thing, right? Well, not exactly.
I have observed that many leaders, especially the ones called visionary, are often evaluated in the court of public opinion on the following subset of those qualities:
Charisma, strength, communication, vision, connecting, faith, and belief
Listen to them talk to a crowd and they will blow you away with the clarity and strength of their vision, with their ability to connect with their customer. This in turn translates to a level of faith in that vision and belief in the overall direction that they are guiding their company towards. Awesome. Literally, awe-inspiring to witness. These are the public qualities of leadership that show up in the media, that the whole company can see in an all-hands, that you can see firsthand when they speak at a conference. These are the qualities that the board members see, that the venture capitalists invest in, and it is pretty hard to get into the position of successful startup founder without them.
So where do the rest come in? Listening, being there, calm, trust. These qualities are more difficult to evaluate based on an interview or a presentation, these are the “internal” signs of leadership.
Trust is a contract between two people. You are constantly creating and building trust in a long-term relationship with everyone around you. When you listen, and are there for people, and are calm when interacting with them, you build trust. But without that listening, without “being there” in a way that lets people feel the ground beneath their feet, without calm, trust is fragile or non-existent. Trust is regularly tested and negotiated based on our ability to show up. I would say that these more private qualities, these relationship qualities, are the qualities of management that every great leader must possess. Managers know the value of steadiness, of showing up for that 1-1 every week, of reacting slowly and listening to the people around them.
So even great external-facing leaders need some management skills. What about the managers?
Managers fail when they lack communication, connecting, and strength. A manager who can’t communicate with their team cannot execute effectively. A great manager connects with their employees as human beings (without turning into full-time therapist), and has the strength to shoulder the challenges of making hard calls in the trenches with their teams, the firings, the resignations, the projects being cut and the delivery or missing of deadlines. The day-to-day pains are very real for the manager and without strength it is almost impossible to do the job well.
But what about vision? We think that vision is the realm of the strategist, but vision also has a place in the manager's skill set. Instead of business strategy or architectural future, the manager’s vision sees what their organization looks like in 2 years, what their team can grow to be capable of accomplishing, what the successful day to day looks and feels like for the employees on their team.
As a final data point, my former CTO coach and one of his partners wrote about the Management/Leadership split in their new version of The Art Of Scalability, excerpted here. Between these three sentiments, perhaps you can triangulate your own path to being a great leader who manages enough, a great manager who leads enough, or whatever the situation calls for.