No weekend for me is complete without a trip to Walmart. The long lines and crowded parking lot are only a small indication of this company’s popularity and success. With over 7000 stores worldwide, Walmart is our nation’s largest retailer, largest corporation, and largest private employer. Walmart has been a target of criticism and the recipient of praise, consistently appearing on Fortune magazine’s list of most admired companies. Last year, Walmart’s stocks even defied the Dow’s downturn, showing an 18% increase.
Though the company he founded is often maligned, Sam Walton’s accomplishments are indisputable. In 1998, Time named him one of the most influential people of the century. A month before his death in 1992, President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civil tribute, saying, “This is not…about Sam Walton’s wealth. It’s about leadership… As he became more and more successful he never turned his back on his roots.”
From humble beginnings, Sam Walton envisioned and implemented a new way of doing business. His life’s work is a legacy that illustrates the difference between management and leadership.
Leaders esteem people and seek to maximize human capital. While managers focus on overseeing the completion of tasks according to a deadline and predictable outcomes, leaders look for human potential and possibilities. Leaders inspire others with a clear purpose and vision behind the tasks at hand. In the place of quotas, standards, and regulations, a leader gives values, goals, and a mission.
Leaders seek innovation and creative solutions while managers reinforce the status quo. Managers direct their attention and energy to results, often short-circuiting creativity. Leaders appreciate the process, looking for new solutions to accomplish tasks.
Leaders takes risks, while managers follow a formula. Motivated by a leader, possessed by a belief in a cause, people will make sacrifices. In the film “Jerry Maguire,” Renee Zellweger’s character, Dorothy, leaves her job to work with Tom Cruise’s Jerry after he is fired for writing and distributing a personal mission statement about unfair practices in the sports management business. Her reasoning: “I just want to be inspired.” Jerry’s rebellion against business as usual is a risk of his job and reputation. The payoff is a more authentic life and a successful career as a sports agent, rebuilt on a foundation of personal relationships. This fictional example underscores a reality that is often missed by people working in upper management: sometimes you have to defy conventions in order to achieve greatness.
Managers may be lonely at the top, but leaders invite others along for the journey. Inherent in effective leadership is the concept of helping others develop their potential. When Sam Walton started his chain of discount stores, one of his strategies was giving his local managers a stake in the company. In this way, Walton’s was not a singular success.
Time invested in training and launching leaders may seem peripheral to more urgent tasks. It may seem like a diversion from your immediate purpose. As a long-term strategy, though, leadership development can exponentially increase your company’s ability to get things done.
Leadership’s worth cannot be summarized in a quarterly report or earnings statement. Without exception, business leaders must manage resources toward a fiscal payoff for their companies. Leaders of non-profit organizations must ensure that the needs of their clients are met. Though managers may be satisfied with achieving an increased bottom line or providing adequate and expected services to clients, a leader’s clarion call is toward purposeful pursuit and fulfillment of a personal or organizational mission.
You may never develop a chain of stores that bear your name, make Time’s list of influential people, or top the list of our nation’s wealthiest people. Yet you can begin to craft your own legacy by leaving management to managers and choosing to lead instead.
This post was originally published at Mountain State University Leadertalk and is republished here with permission.