Leadership starts with taking control

The first task of any leader is to take control. As a manager it is easy to take control. You are appointed, you have a budget and you have people reporting to you. You probably inherit systems which help you manage performance budgets and progress. To manage effectively, you simply manage the people, plans and systems you inherited. If you want to step up to leadership, you need a higher level of control.

As a manager it is enough to control the existing business. As a leader, you have to take the business somewhere different and better. There is nothing wrong with sustaining and gradually improving the situation you inherited – that is what all managers have to do. But as a leader you have to do more than just manage. Instead of sustaining a legacy from the past, you have to create a legacy for the future. That puts change at the heart of leadership.

The test of a good leader is whether they can take people where they would not have got by themselves. This is true if you lead a giant organization like Google or if you lead a team of five or six people. You have to have an idea about how you will make a difference. You have to create a future that is different and better.

Having a clear idea about how you will create a better future sounds obvious, but it is often lost in the daily battle to survive. We may want to change the world, but right now we have a customer screaming down the telephone, the month end close is due in two hours, there is the presentation to prepare and a hundred emails to deal with. As a leader, you have to deal with the day-to-day battles but never lose sight of the greater goal you want to achieve.

Think about your position. What will be different in one or two years’ time as a result of your leadership?