Have you ever stopped to think about the true meaning of the word “leadership”? It’s one of those words readily understood by many but is often difficult to articulate.
A quick check on the Internet offers several perspectives on the topic. One source describes leadership as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization.” Another reveals leadership “involves sound decision making,” while a well-recognized and widely published author suggests leadership “is the result of creating and articulating a clear vision.”
As is the case, leadership can mean different things depending on the person, situation, and circumstances. For the purposes of managing on the front line, I would like to suggest it’s interpreted and understood as involving the ability to have influence on others.
Authority vs. Influence on the Front Line
As a front-line supervisor, you have an implied or stated level of authority that corresponds or equates to your title and position. Authority is given as a means of control. As it relates to direct reports, control is used to manage actions and behaviors.
Leadership, on the other hand, involves your ability to have influence on decisions that impact actions or behaviors. Leaders inherently understand that ultimate control over actions and behaviors belongs to the individual. Given this fact, the most successful supervisors will control what they can and will attempt to impact situations or circumstances which are under the control of others. This is what front-line leadership is all about.
An important distinction between authority and influence involves how the two are obtained. Authority, as noted above, is given with title and position. Influence, in stark contrast, is earned. Not only is it earned, it’s earned from the very people you need to influence. Figuratively, it’s a key that allows you access or reach that authority alone cannot provide.
Gaining Influence Through Earning Respect
Developing influence on the front line requires time and experience. It’s a matter of actions and example and is ultimately a measure of the level of respect you are able to obtain. What may take years to acquire can be lost in a moment, however. Respect is what others see in you. Influence is a measure of how they feel about it.
As for getting underway and starting your own personal journey as a leader, consider the following concept as a matter of reference. Earning the respect of others is the only way to truly have influence upon them. For this reason, it’s important to recognize the things you must do to improve what employees see in you – as an individual and as a supervisor. Regardless of what this involves, treat it as if you are starting a savings account in the local bank. To earn the respect and ultimately gain influence on others, you need to make as many deposits (positive experiences) as possible. You also want to minimize withdrawals, or those actions and behaviors that undermine or sabotage your ultimate goals.
Finally, leadership on the front line for many begins with a choice. We’ve found through our client engagements that people-oriented practices matter most. For those on the front line who want to grow leadership capabilities, the opportunity or timing has never been better. Start your journey now and be the change you would like to see in others.