Leadership and the job market

The word leadership, used in the context of a job, doesn't always make sense to job seekers. It sounds like a buzzword. It also sounds like you need to be an executive, some sort of mythological business situation.

As usual, the common wisdom is largely wrong. Leadership is a hiring criteria in many jobs, with very good reason. Despite being a much-used term, leadership in the job market sense isn't ornamental, and there's nothing theoretical about it, either.

Actual leadership in the workplace is very much about taking the initiative in the work situations, whatever's going on. Leadership and the job market are actually creating whole new job descriptions between them. Leadership skills are now becoming essential criteria for job searches and interviews.

Leadership talent in job searches is also attracting attention from the headhunting agencies, too. It's a priceless skill, truly useful and high paying. It's fairly easy to see why, in the real employment market. Leaders aren't that easy to find. Leadership and the job market are big business.

People required to be leaders on the job don't just give orders and tell other people what to do, as if they were on TV.

Knowing what to do, knowing how to set priorities, how to solve problems, and how to use resources are the business basics.

Knowing how to lead human beings is the real challenge for supervisors and managers. Some can do it, some can't.

For employers, leadership means making sure the people they're hiring to run their business know what they're doing, and can handle situations. Leadership is absolutely critical in any managerial role, and it's not because HR culture says it's important.

You will have heard a lot about motivation of staff, getting the best out of the employees, in training, and How would you motivate your staff in interviews.

These are real situations. Unmotivated staff are a serious problem, often because of terrible management.

One of the reasons employers place job ads requiring leadership is because poor management techniques and de-motivational workplaces are so destructive. Lack of leadership skills in management, at any level, is a real liability.

It's also expensive. People with leadership skills are focused, and usually on top of their work. Those who lack those skills are the opposite. Things fall to pieces, staff are anything but motivated, and the work is all over the place.

Without real leadership, you just can't do those things.

Leadership, in its true sense in the workplace is:

Clear thinking
Knowledge base
Decision making
Organizational skills
People skills
Very strong practical managerial skills

As you can see, this is a whole skill set, described in one word.

A manager is a person who's a manager. A leader is a person who's an actual motive force, making things happen. An expert is someone with a lot of knowledge. A leader is someone who has to be able to use that knowledge to make decisions and get things done.


Bill arrives at his new job, supervisor of the warehouse. He finds a mass of papers and emails for his predecessor, who was only in the job for three months, and was sacked a month ago.

The mess was created by the fact that nobody knew how to sort it out. The company manager is trying to sort out the customers, and Bill has been hired on the basis of his leadership skills. He has 10 staff, most of whom are new, which was part of the problem. The staff couldn't figure out what Bill's predecessor had done with the deliveries, the incoming orders, the warehouse accounts, or anything else. The warehouse records are referred to by the accounting staff as The Black Hole.

Bill arrives at 8 AM.

He grabs one of the new staff, George, and appoints him as his office worker/messenger.

Bill appoints Fred, one of the experienced staff as the person giving instructions to the warehouse staff, reporting directly to him with any problems.

He rings the company's IT manager and makes an appointment for a few minutes to discuss the problems and the fact that he needs to input a lot of data into the company's records. He also calls Accounts and the General Manager's office to make sure he can talk directly to the Accounts Manager and the General Manager.


George is told to find every single piece of paper he can and just sort the mass of papers into the separate types of documents, then tell Bill when he's finished.


Fred's opinion is asked of the ability of the staff to do the current incoming and outgoing work properly, with the right data entry and handling procedures. Fred says as long as they don't have to try to sort out The Black Hole, all the current work should be OK. The trouble with the stuff in Bill's office is even people who'd been with the company for 20 years couldn't figure out what was supposed to be done with it.


Bill talks to the Accounts Department Manager, to make sure that he knows what accounts wants. That's a great relief to Ian, the Accounts Manager, who's seen The Black Hole in all its horrors. Ian gives Bill a set of standard guidelines, which fortunately for Bill is so clear it'll be pretty easy to put together.


Bill speaks to the general manager, explains what he's done. The last time Bill spoke to the general manager was during his job interview. The general manager, however, is pleased to hear that anything's being achieved. He's spent hours on the phone talking to furious customers and equally annoyed suppliers.

9:30 AM

Bill spends half an hour with the IT manager, Jack, and arranges for a computer terminal to be available for his department. The IT manager is a bit stunned that anyone is seriously trying to cope with The Black Hole, but he's happy to help.


Bill stops work for a few minutes to tell the staff they'll be doing shifts on a computer in IT section, and asks if anyone needs training on the system. They all do, so he arranges to sit in and train them on the basics.


Bill returns to his office to find George almost submerged under paper. George has found a large amount of documents and even a Palm Pilot in a drawer, and the pile is quite a bit bigger than anyone expected. They clear everything off Bill's desk and put the orders, deliveries and invoices into separate piles, with everything else in another pile for later sorting.


Fortunately George is a quick learner, and works very fast and produces four neat piles. Meanwhile Bill enters the labyrinth of his predecessor's emails and discovers that the previous month's email consists largely of trying to find out what happened the month before.

Sure enough, there's a track record of everything that's gone wrong, with references and invoice numbers.

Bill asks George to put all the invoices, deliveries and orders into numerical/date order, and take them to the terminal in IT, asking Ian to show George where to set up. George is told to go to lunch after he's got everything ready to go, and Bill takes an early lunch, telling Fred to organize the staff so one of them will be available for an hour in the afternoon after having their own lunches.


George is a really good data entry operator. Nobody knew that, and it turns out he's better qualified to show the other staff how to enter the data than Bill, one of those rare people who's a naturally good study on any computer application. George trains the others for the rest of the afternoon, while Bill and Fred search through the emails and the fourth pile of mysterious documents looking for clues.


The three piles have been entered, correctly, mainly because George is a very good trainer, and because Jack, who's by now fascinated, knows how important the work is, and is as eager as anyone to finally be free of The Black Hole, has been helping out with technical things and got some of his staff to help out. Jack even did some of the data entry himself.

Fred, given access to the mysterious fourth pile, is the person who knows what should have happened to all these bits and pieces. Between him and Bill's constant checking with other department heads, nearly all of the fourth pile is either entered or sent off to wherever they should have been two months ago.


Bill leaves the office with the entire mess sorted out, and his staff trained to handle most of the administrative work.

That's leadership.

As you can see, there's nothing but real skills involved. Employers hire leaders because they need them, each and every day.