Since I worked in customer service for nearly 8 years, I got the opportunity to work with various types of people with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities. This also allowed me to see what the difference between a manager and a leader is as well as what qualities are exhibited by effective and ineffective leaders. During the 8 years I worked at Albertson’s, I worked for two different store directors with very different leadership styles. My first store director, Kim, was incredibly friendly with employees and would do whatever she could to help out her employees. If we were short handed with baggers, needed extra help in the floral department during Valentine’s Day or if a load needed to be thrown because someone had called in sick, she would pitch in and help with those things. During Christmas time, she would make sure to have someone cater lunch for all of the employees in the store, including the guys who worked night crew. As a leader, Kim was determined, sociable, had integrity and inspired her employees to be the best they could be. My second Store Director, Paul, was the polar opposite. If the store was short handed or if someone called in sick, the employees were just expected to pick up the slack and complete twice as much work. If there was a piece of trash next to his foot, he would point it out to someone to pick it up rather than picking it up himself and throwing it away. Because I was not a manger, it took him nearly four months to call me something other then “Hey” or “You,” even though I wore a name badge that clearly said “Amber” on it. When he became my store director the morale in the store was low and the turnaround for employees was relatively high.
A manager is somebody that just does what they are told to do with little input or ability to change a situation. A leader, on the other hand, affects change and makes an effort to improve situations for all parties involved. Although the example I provided was relative to the grocery business, in the case of education, improving the quality of education could mean improving outcomes for students, teachers, parents and community members. While reading about the different leadership styles (bureaucracy, open systems, organizational theory, etc.) none of them are perfect and there are pros and cons to each, but it’s about finding the right balance between those various theories/styles that can make someone an effective leader. As a leader, you want to inspire people to be the best that they can be, but you also have to be prepared to deal with coworkers who may or may not have the same vision as you do. This requires an ability to listen, be open minded as well as collaborative. Experience, I believe, is also the key to obtaining quality leadership skills. Without an ability to put to the test what one actually learns, there is no telling what leadership style works and what doesn’t work.