Are you a manager or a leader? Three essential lessons from Inspire CA

A manager is someone who does exactly that — manages. They’re the people who give employees direction when they come to work every day. They answer questions, offer guidance and provide insights to help staff achieve goals.

A leader, on the other hand, is someone different. Someone who is inspirational, passionate, innovative and empathetic. A leader is someone that encourages their staff to challenge the status quo, come up with their own solutions, problem-solve and work towards their goals.

Ben Walker is someone who knows a thing or two about just how important leadership can be. As the director of Inspire CA, Ben founded the company himself in 2013 at the young age of 22. After many years of working within the boundaries of a traditional accounting firm, Ben began looking for newer and more innovative ways in which he could serve his clients. That was how Inspire CA was born. Because Ben’s instinct to do more than just manage was and will always be a powerful one. Something that cannot be contained or restricted.

As you move throughout your own career, it’s important to come up with a definitive answer to that very question: ‘Are you a manager or are you a leader?’ If you fall into the former category and want to do whatever it takes to move into the latter, there are a few essential things to keep in mind.

Defining one’s leadership style

The most important thing to understand is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to leadership. Different situations require different leadership styles, as a business is essentially a living, breathing whole that needs to be nurtured in its own unique ways. Remember that 46% of all startups fail due to general incompetence in leadership — meaning, people are trying to manage in a situation where something more is required.

There are a few different leadership styles for you to choose from depending on your needs:

• Facilitative leadership is a people-centric approach to leadership. It puts the work process and the company culture first, which is ideal for environments that are both creative and high-pressure.

• Laissez-faire leadership, on the other hand, is a more ‘hands-off’ style. It puts the members of a particular team in control of their own destiny, ideal for exceptional employees and teams that excel in self-motivation.

• Coaching leadership fosters a much more ‘give and take’ atmosphere. It puts a heavy emphasis on two-way communication, ideal for individual development long-term.

• Authoritative leadership is essentially the business version of a dictatorship. The leader is in complete control, which is great for undisciplined environments.

• Democratic leadership is all about the free exchange of ideas, perfect for a balanced working environment.

When learning how to lead Inspire CA, Ben Walker also had to learn how to think outside the box. He had to adapt his leadership style to implement new technologies to change the way the business communicated with its clients. During this process, he learned exactly how difficult leadership could be — particularly when you’re trying to control too many things. On the ‘leader vs manager’ scale, Ben started out a manager. The situation demanded that he became a leader, sooner rather than later.

Build that management team

It’s also important to understand that a leader is nothing without a strong management team by their side. In fact, according to one study, only about 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects. The average cost overrun of all projects is about 27%. 57% of all projects that fail do so because of a substantial breakdown in communications.

What does this tell you? Simple — you could be the best leader in the world, but without the right management team at your side, you may well be finished before you ever had a chance to truly start.
Nobody can run a business single-handedly, which is why communication with your management team is so important. But this is about more than just making sure everyone is on the same page — it’s about the free exchange of ideas that lets everyone operate at their best at all times.

In those terms, The Executive Connection was instrumental in helping Ben Walker understand the importance of a team to assist the leader. Leaders may be the captains of their ships — but they’re not the ones down in the engine room stoking the fire. They not people whom they can trust to help make that happen.

All focus, all the time

When you’re starting (and eventually running) a small- to medium-sized business, every day is a new challenge. You invariably meet a lot of different obstacles that don’t just test your resolve — they also start forcing you to question whether you’re on the right path in life in the first place.

How common is this idea in terms of leadership? More common than you probably think. According to a study conducted by the Small Business Administration, about 1/3 of businesses that begin today will fail within the first two years. Of those that remain, another 50% will fail over the course of the next five. Not knowing what to focus on and when and why are major contributors to this.

Being a part of TEC helped Ben Walker not only learn how to become a better leader, but also underline the importance of focus. TEC helped Ben gain insight into not just that focus was important, but what he needed to be focusing on: namely, developing his business, his leadership skills, and his team.

Taking leadership to the next level

There is nothing wrong with being a manager. Managers are an essential part of any business. But to really take your own development to the next level — to become the best possible version of yourself you can be — you need to learn how to think, eat, sleep, and breathe like the leader you’ve always dreamed of becoming.

Leaders don’t just know how to adapt their own style to fit the needs of the situation. They know how to surround themselves with the best possible people and maintain the type of hyper vigilant focus that allows everyone to do better. They’re masters of the approach of putting the pieces in place to turn a business into the well-oiled machine it was meant to be.

If you’d like to find out more information about building leadership skills, or if you have any additional questions on related topics that you’d like to see answered, please don’t delay — contact TEC today.