Leadership – what’s in a title?

I was chatting to a young woman who had decided that the time had come to step away from her current job and find something else to help her develop her skills. When she heard that I coached people during their career transition she asked me how she could get the leadership experience that so many companies included in the job adverts she had seen.

What an interesting question.
The first challenge in any job search is get enough sense from an advert for a vacancy to allow an applicant to pitch their CV or application properly. In my experience of looking at recent job adverts with clients, leadership and leading are sometimes included in relatively “low responsibility” roles which makes me wonder whether “leader” and “manager” have become interchangeable.

Of course there have been many theories and views on the difference between leadership and management – and that discussion will continue – but I would argue that whilst having managerial or management experience is reasonable for a lot of jobs asking for leadership skills is something different.
Over the past few years I have had the pleasure of working on projects with younger people in schools. In that time I have seen examples of great leadership. In one project the youngsters working together decided that they needed to elect a “boss” and what they did was choose the person who had shown the best leadership so far. It was a validation that I had to point out to both the team members and the “boss” they chose. They maybe could not say exactly what it was they noticed but it felt right and they acknowledged that.

In the Young Enterprise Scotland Company Programme students in 5th and 6th year of school are challenged to set up and run a company. At the early stages they often decide on who should take the roles of the Directors but of course when they come to tell the story at the end of the project, team members have often intuitively taken on more than was defined by their role and learned a great deal by doing so (you can find more information about the programme at www.lothianyes.com).

In each of these situations most of the young people involved have some experience of leading and many have shown real leadership.

I expected that the young woman I was talking to was the same so I told her those stories and her eyes lit up. It turns out that she had completed a Duke of Edinburgh Award but “didn’t think that was relevant”. She had also taken over the running of a shop during a summer job posting when the manager went off sick almost as soon as she arrived. It was only when I asked her what that involved that she realised how much leadership she had shown by stepping into that role without previous experience or training.

Armed with this information she said that she would look at the job adverts differently. If the organisations with the vacancy do really mean that they want a manager with experience but are advertising it as a “leader” role then that might not work. But if they really are looking for leadership then she realises that she has a whole lot to offer.

Jackie offers coaching for career transition. Take a look at www.consultcameron.com for more information.

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