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Just Because You Are The Boss Does Not Make You A Leader

Many years ago, I took a walk with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. We were talking about an opportunity and I was expressing my concern that I would not be a good fit for the role being offered. He was a bit shocked that I had anything to worry about and he told me “you will be in charge … the people will have to do what you tell them”. I knew he was wrong, but I don’t think I could have put my finger on why that wasn’t right.

Now I believe I know. You have to be a leader to lead, and just being in charge does not make you a leader. Think about the people you know who get things done. Chances are they are not necessarily the people with the title or the authority. I can think of the names of leaders in our company who are able to influence others and make things happen. These people accept responsibility, work hard, and learn about the people they work with, getting to know their interests and strengths and goals.

This person is not telling others what to do. They are setting out what needs to be done – what is the goal – and they are making connections up, down, and across the team to complete a task or achieve a big objective. They are “painting a picture” of what is possible and they are building a network of collaborators.

Leaders are always learning. They ask questions, read books, take courses, and are always open to thinking about and trying alternative ways of solving problems. They don’t say things like “we have always done it this way”. Leaders are always willing to share what they know and who they know with others. They know that by helping the person beside them to improve their skills and knowledge, or expand their network, they are making themselves and the whole team stronger.

I often think about that walk many years ago, and what my life would have been like if I believed that CEO and taken that position. I’m glad I didn’t.

Doug Dougherty

4 responses to “Just Because You Are The Boss Does Not Make You A Leader

  1. A good leader EARNS their respect, a boss tries to demand respect through their position or title. I always compared respect to money…you have to earn it, not take it or demand it. It’s hard to earn, and easy to spend, (or lose!)

  2. Doug,
    We are the happy recipients of your wise and thoughtful decision not to take that job!

    Funny, I was just talking to one of my customers this week about these two co- CEOs I know, who wholeheartedly took on the task of leading through coaching, of asking questions first before offering advice, of teaching their staff through support and challenge that they’ve got what it takes to move themselves in the company forward.

    I will speak for myself – I feel very fortunate to work with you, Darryl, and the team. I am inspired by the dedication, caring, knowledge, and can do approach the Cooper team.

    After 25 years of working with Fortune 500 senior leaders, how lucky am I to have met the force of nature that is Cooper!

    Onward and upward we go! Lisa

  3. Hi,
    I agree that being in charge does not mean you can lead. It’s so important to recognize the needs of a team as well the strengths they bring to the table and draw from those. This “painted picture” you write about, I know has been an integral part of your ongoing Vision for Cooper. I think it’s so important to share your vision with your team and remind them of the part they play in achieving it. This not only provides direction but a desire to be a part of your vision and help make it happen. This is something Cooper continues to do well.
    Be proud!

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