Throwing Around the Word ‘Leader’

It’s an easy mistake to make: Calling managers “leaders”.  I often find myself correcting my own words in an, “I’m sorry, I mean ‘Management Team'” back-peddle, when I’ve thoughtlessly used the term ‘Leadership Team’.  That’s usually what we refer to them as, right?  The ‘leadership team’?  But what we really mean is the group of managers that meet to make decisions without the rest of us. Does that responsibility for resource allocation and accountability make them leaders? (the debate goes on…)

We often refer to people above us in organizations as “leaders”. Perhaps it’s an expression of hope.  Maybe it’s an affirmation we’re expressing (the whole “thoughts become things” bit). We may want them to lead.  We may want to see some leadership along with their management responsibilities. In fact, I think we long for that, secretly.

What’s interesting is when they refer to themselves as leaders. I have had experience with a few management teams that refer to themselves in front of org chart subordinates as “the leadership team”.  That’s a pat on one’s own back – don’t you think?  I simply can’t resist interjecting an innocent, “You mean the ‘Management‘ team, don’t you?”  I know, some people could really be insulted by that.  For those individuals, I wouldn’t recommend that they open their 360 feedback.

‘Leader’, ‘Manager’ – “What difference does it make?”, you ask?  Well, for one, learning to carefully choose our words might actually help us to communicate better…  Besides that, though, keeping the word ‘leader’ sacred might create a cultural view of the term as earned through behavior and not obtained through promotion.

Think about that as a norm in your organization!  What impact would the simple, intentional selectivity of the usage of one word have on organizational results?