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By Melissa Maldonado, Director of Customer Support

Do you have what it takes to be a leader? Being a manager doesn’t automatically make you a leader, and you can also be a leader without being a manager. But how do you know if you’re a leader or a manager?

A true leader is someone who doesn’t conform to common perceptions about leadership. Here I’ll discuss these perceptions, that I also like to call the 7 Myths of Leadership.

A position/title will make me a leader

Just because you have the title, doesn’t mean you’re a leader. We’ve all seen departments that have both a manager and a leader. The leader is the one who people follow. You may have earned the title with hard work and longevity, but the only way to earn a role as leader is to inspire others to follow you.

If I’m not hearing complaints, everyone must be happy

If your employees don’t trust or respect you as a leader, they’re not going to complain to you because they’re probably blaming you for their unhappiness. People won’t confide in you unless they truly believe that you care about them and that you have their best interests at heart.

I can lead everyone the same way

Many leaders like to adopt a certain style or method of leadership. Maybe it’s something they read about in a book or learned from a mentor that they think is effective. But every person is different.

For example, the way you lead men might be different than the way you lead women. What motivates 60-year-olds is different than what motivates 23-year-olds. Some people are more sensitive than others. One style doesn’t work for everyone.

Leadership and management are the same thing

You’ve probably heard the old saying “inspect what you expect.” This implies a top-down leadership style where the dealer tells the manager what to do, then inspects to make sure it gets done.

But if you study leadership and management principles, you’ll discover that leaders don’t need to inspect what they expect. A good leader defines a vision and mission, inspires management to get on board with that mission, and empowers the managers to do their jobs. If you have to inspect things all the time to make sure they’re done right, chances are you’re a manager.

A good litmus test to determine if you’re a leader or a manager is whether you can take time off from work. Can you go on vacation for a week without being pulled into phone calls and checking emails for hours a day? If you’re a manager, probably not. If you’re a leader, you can go on vacation and not worry about things because you know that everything that’s supposed to get done, will get done.

Being a leader makes me popular

Sometimes leaders have to make tough decisions, and sometimes these decisions can be very unpopular. But if a leader feels strongly that they’re doing what’s right for the company long-term, then the employees will still respect that decision. They make not like it but they’ll respect it.

For example, if you’re running a dealership and you want to make a change like implementing a new technology, such as mobile tablets in the service lane, or changing your DMS, or if you want to change the pay structure, your employees might really push back. Present your case, tell them why, and stick firmly to your decision.

If you want to make a change but cave in to the desires of your employees, then you’re a manager, not a leader. A leader is willing to make an unpopular decision if it’s best for the company.

Leaders must have charisma and be extroverts

Many of the best leaders are humble and soft spoken. Look at Warren Buffett, or Jim Senegal, the founder and ex-CEO of Costco, or Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines. These guys are personable but in no way charismatic. Many leaders in the tech world are real nerds – look at Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg. You could argue these guys have a presence about them but they aren’t charismatic in the traditional sense of the word.

Leadership qualities transcend appearance and stereotypes, so when you’re looking to hire or promote someone, don’t overlook someone because you think they’re not charismatic enough.

Leaders accomplish things by controlling others

You can’t force someone to follow you. People choose to follow based on instinct. If you want to be a leader you have to genuinely care about your people. This is not something that can be faked, because your employees will sense it. And in order to care about people, you have to get to know them. Go out and talk to them every day—not just about work, but ask them about their families, hobbies and goals.

Additionally, you have to lead by example. You can’t tell someone how to do something or behave a certain way, and then go and do the opposite. To be respected, leaders have to walk the talk.

Simon Sinek wrote a great book called “Leaders Eat Last.”  In the military there’s a saying “Officers eat last.” When military troops are fed, the lowest-ranking privates eat first. Then the corporals, sergeants, then finally the officers. Real leaders put their people first.

For employees, this one behavior, whether you put yourself first or your employees first, determines whether you’ll be worthy of their love and loyalty. If you genuinely care about your employees and put their best interests first, they will follow you to the ends of the earth. That’s when you know you’re a leader.

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