Managers may be leaders. Then again, they may not. It’s not a given that a manager knows how to really lead. In fact, it’s not a given that a manager can define the difference between management and leadership.
For those managers, Fred Walker wants to help. Walker is a corporate training specialist at the Dale Carnegie Training Center of Southern New Jersey in Hamilton. Walker will lead “Leadership Training for Managers,” a free workshop that serves as an introduction for Carnegie’s seven-week management leadership course. The workshop will be held on Thursday, February 2, at 8:30 a.m. at the Carnegie offices on AAA Drive. Visit centralnj.dalecarnegie.com.
A native of Robbinsville, Walker grew up under two hard-working, common sense parents, both of whom worked at RCA (now Sarnoff). His mother was a nurse who was so proud to be one that she kept her license long past her retirement. Even when she was at the end of her life she would remind her own nurses at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital that she didn’t “used to be” a nurse, she still was one.
Walker’s father was an HVAC specialist who could fix just about anything. Though he never completed high school, he was still nicknamed “the engineer” by project specialists who would visit RCA, Walker says. At the end of his father’s life, the elder Walker had lost much of the ability to use his hands. So he told his son what to do while they worked on the family boat together. Walker calls it “a great partnership” that taught him something he applies in every course he does at Carnegie: learn by doing.
Walker started out with a much more entertainment-oriented direction in life. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in 1983 with a bachelor’s in theater and then became a professional magician. He worked on cruise ships and at theme parks from the mid-1980s until about 2001, and to this day he still has a side job as a magician with his wife of 35 years, Heather. The pair professionally mystify under the name Magic Walkers.
In the mid-’90s, Walker was an admissions counselor for Berkeley College, giving presentations, then did technology management at Lord & Abbot, concurrent with his magic career. Around 2002, he says, he started thinking he needed “a real job.” A friend told him that he had been an entrepreneur and communicator his whole adult life and that he would be perfect for corporate training. Walker found his way to Carnegie in 2002 and has led hundreds of corporate training programs there since.
What’s the difference? Walker’s lessons from his father in learning by doing dovetail nicely with how his Carnegie course in leadership goes. Attendees are broken up into groups of four or five and asked to come up with definitions for management and leadership.
“My job is to lead guided discussions,” Walker says. “And we always conclude that leadership is about people; management is about process.”
People tend to make a lot of assumptions, he says. In the working world, that can lead to no end of problems. One frequent assumption in one of the group activities in the course is that nobody needs a leader for a simple task. People will just sort of go about their business and do the work, but nobody is really directing them.
But someone is always in charge in the office, full-time or per project. And that person needs to be aware of the message he or she is sending out.
Key aspects. Walker cites Carnegie’s five drivers of success as necessary components for understanding how to be an effective leader. Top on the list is self-direction as a manager. A leader needs to stay grounded and directed, for himself and for the sake of the team, which will follow whatever direction a manager takes them. If the manager can’t stay focused, neither will the team.
Communication and people skills are also paramount. Good leaders need to be clear about where things are headed and they need to be respectful. That’s a big one, Walker says. Being respectful is a major part of what he teaches everyone he can. Part of the training he oversees involves “greenlight thinking,” the act of listening to everyone’s ideas without judgment.
Another people skill is accountability. Managers need to be accountable to themselves and to their staffs. They need to be able to have it all come down to themselves, and they must declare themselves, Walker says. They must state what needs to be done and how, and they must take responsibility for seeing it all through.
Then, of course, there are process skills. Getting the best job done is about finding the right person to do the job. Too many managers shunt projects to people they feel should just do the work, when it would be better all around to recognize that people have strengths and weaknesses. And it’s better to use strengths.
Innovation is needlessly intimidating. One reason for greenlight thinking is to allow people to come up with ideas large and small. That latter one is often a surprise, Walker says. Because people are usually scared by the word “innovation.”
“Normally I think that’s one of the challenges,” he says. “That’s why it’s important to create a safe zone.”
A safe zone allows for no judgment for whatever people will say. A total killer of creative thinking is when people feel their ideas will be mocked or judged. It’s not long before they stop coming up with ideas and start saying things like “Just tell me what we’re doing.”
But innovation need not be intimidating, Walker says. Take UPS. One of its most vaunted innovations that saves the company millions of gallons of fuel, millions of dollars, and hours of extra time is one of the simplest ideas ever offered in corporate America: no left turns.
Hardly a complicated idea, Walker says. But it works. Right-only turns has since been adopted by most major delivery services worldwide.
Beware the uniform. Carnegie does a lot of work with Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and Walker is often part of the picture. If dealing with the military has taught him anything about leadership it’s that insignia and rank do not mean you are automatically a leader.
“I talked to this one Air Force captain who in his other life was a volunteer pastor at his church,” Walker says. The captain often sees a lot of younger officers barking orders at people. “He takes them aside and tells them, ‘You’re not a leader,’” he says. “They always say, ‘Yes I am, I tell them what to do and they do it.’” The captain then informs them that were it not for the uniform and the military code of justice that enforces rank superiority, no one would listen to them.
“He tells the guys that you’re a leader when people follow you because they want to,” Walker says. “That’s the difference between authority and influence. Influence is much more powerful. And it’s earned.”