As the President of Starkey Hearing Technologies, I’m often asked the question, “How do you define leadership?”
From time to time, I remind my own executive team to always be willing to lead from the front. What does that mean? Isn’t someone who is leading a division, a group or even a company automatically a leader? The short answer — no.
‘Boss’ and ‘Leader’ are Not Synonymous
Boss is a title that is given to you. Leader is a role that you earn.
Just because someone has the title of authority, and the responsibility that comes with it, doesn’t mean they automatically lead. Leadership is something entirely different. I’ve been at Starkey for nearly 25 years, and I can say from experience leading a company of more than 6,000 employees in 26 facilities around the world and conducting business in more than 100 countries, becoming a leader takes work and dedication.
Leading from the front is about being willing to do whatever you ask of your employees. One moment I may be talking to Yahoo Finance about how Starkey’s Livio AI is revolutionizing the hearing aid, the next I am grabbing someone a cup of coffee or picking someone up from the airport. The title of boss doesn’t make you exempt from doing the little, and oftentimes the most challenging, things that make a business run. There is no task too small for a leader.
Successful results and earned accomplishments will deliver promotions and titles. Ambition drives a company. Attitude, growth and professional development for employees is key for all successful companies to be lasting companies too. I started in an entry-level role within our All Make Repair Department at Starkey more than two decades ago cleaning old hearing aids. I was driven and learned from anyone who would teach me about the company Bill Austin built and about the hearing industry. I was a sponge with a humble attitude, always asking questions and learning.
That drive got me a title and an office, but it also taught me the lesson that offices can isolate. An office is figuratively, and quite literally, putting up a barrier between you and the people you’re meant to lead. I spend as little time in my office as possible. A boss will hide behind that barrier. A leader doesn’t.
A Good Leader Will Lead By Example
A leader puts his or her self aside. They check their ego at the door. When we were traveling around Europe, on the #StarkeyLivioGoesGlobal tour — I took this leadership rule to heart. I know people did not pack conference halls in London, Bonn, Paris and Milan to see me, they came to see a revolutionary piece of technology created by the Starkey Strong team. I simply had the privilege of talking about how we are changing the hearing industry by transforming the hearing aid into a multi-purpose Healthable™ device. I would not be on that stage if it wasn’t for every single member of our team doing incredible work to help people live better lives.
A leader must remember that they play one of many roles to help the team win. Successes are not about you. The team is due the credit for the wins. As the leader, it’s your job to take responsibility for the losses.
The Difference Between Leadership and Management
People often say management and leadership are the same thing. In reality, they are two separate worlds with different meanings and deliverables.
Management is about managing your strategy, your employees and the process. A great manager is like the conductor of an orchestra. You don’t have to know how to play all the instruments. Your responsibility is to get all of them to play together as a symphony.
For most leaders, management is part of the job. You are responsible and accountable for the team’s performance, results, and making the difficult decisions to help a company succeed. Leadership goes hand-in-hand with that mission, but it’s easy to lump them together.
Learning how to lead from the front takes time. It can take the better part of a career to clearly define your own take on leadership and to understand how to best manage that responsibility. Just remember that it is just that — a responsibility. Each of us, no matter our title or where our office is, has the responsibility to serve the team and our customers.