Why Every Employee You Hire Should Be a Leader, No Matter How Experienced They Are Leadership is the lifeblood of all businesses, at every level.
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Leadership is about mindset, not a job title. And it is arguably the most important attribute to the success of any company or organization. Yet, many managers seeking to fill entry-level positions often pass on candidates they feel are "overqualified." They do this for a variety of reasons, all of which seem counterintuitive to creating the best possible company.
For every manager, there are countless employees. This is true in nearly every profession. Professional sports teams are a great example of this process and represent something very similar to many companies. They have an owner. That owner hires a general manager. That general manager hires assistant managers, directors of personnel and marketing, a head coach and so on. Each of these directors hires a staff, and the head coach hires assistant coaches, trainers, etc. And the players are hired in cooperation with the management and coaching staff to represent the organization on the field, much like the employees who are hired to have direct interface with customers. Even the players hire their own support staff.
How leadership shows up at every level
It can be argued that customers, whether it is fans watching a sports team on television or in person or patrons who go to a restaurant, are the most vital part of keeping a company viable. Without them, there is little to no money being made. Yet, interestingly enough, this most precious cog in the overall sustainability of a company most frequently engages with representatives of the company who, on paper, have the lowest position of leadership.
However, if you look at the basic infrastructure of the most successful teams and companies in the world, the most important and influential leadership does not simply come from the top down, but instead, it emanates from each faction within the organization. And, in fact, the top-level leadership generally has the least direct leadership impact over the majority of the employees, let alone the customer base.
This illustrates several important points. First, entry-level employees serve a hugely influential role in most companies. Second, nearly every position in a company plays an important role. Lastly, leadership can and should happen in all areas. All this inevitably means that everyone should have the training, encouragement and expectation to lead within their respective roles.
Why you should encourage everyone to be a leader
While there is no doubt that there are natural-born leaders, it is also equally true that a leadership mindset can be cultivated. While this takes time and resources, the benefits to an organization are quantifiable. Take the example of the professional sports team. Players on the field represent the lowest level on the rung in terms of decision-makers on behalf of the team's management structure. Yet, they arguably have the most influence on the perception of the team and the fans' (customers) willingness to invest their time and money.
On the most basic level, a player's job is to perform their duty to the best of their ability. But does it help the team and organization if they show up on time or early? Does it help if they sign autographs and engage with fans? Does it help if they have a great attitude and model a great work ethic? All of these things represent leadership traits that impact the bottom line, yet the players are not in what would be considered a traditional leadership role when we look at the managerial infrastructure of a team.
Now take the employee working at the cash register of the local grocery store. Their job is to efficiently and effectively perform transactions with minimal arithmetic error. The store manager may wander around a bit, but certainly doesn't directly engage with a fraction of the customers that the cashier does every day, thus having a far smaller impact on the direct lifeblood of the store's financial success. Yet, we perceive the manager as a leader but not the cashier. Does it matter if the cashier smiles, makes eye contact and greets each customer? Does it matter if the cashier has a great attitude and helps bag if their lane is clear? Of course!
And these things not only impact the store's bottom line by creating happy and appreciative customers, but they are certainly impactful leadership qualities. The store owner, who is in the most powerful position, isn't able to have this type of impact on the customer base. Neither is the store buyer, regional manager, general manager or store manager. In fact, every single position of authority above the cashier has less direct contact with and less direct impact on the customer experience than the cashier. And if the customer is happy, the store does well.
The point is simple: One, hire the best possible people; two, encourage everyone to be a leader; three, recognize that the value, influence and importance of a leader have nothing to do with their job title or position, but about the impact they can have on the people with whom they engage.