How to Grow as a Leader
Originally published: 08.01.17 by Jeremy Noll
A first-hand account of one service manager’s leadership journey — the people who helped him along the way, and the difference between being a manager and being a leader
When I think about instilling leadership in others, I can’t help but recall my early days with Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning. Coming into my first leadership role in 2008 at the relatively young age of 26, I had no idea the wild ride I was about to encounter.
Throughout my earlier years, I had aspired to be i a management role but it wasn’t until I was a manager myself when I learned what that really meant. The greatest learning curve I encountered is probably one of the most common questions young leaders ask themselves today — What is the difference between being a manager and being a leader?
Managers & Leaders
As I advanced through different positions in the Isaac organization, I couldn’t decipher the difference between managers and leaders and, honestly, at the time I don’t think I was even aware there was a difference.
As time went on, however, it became obvious to me there is a drastic difference between management and leadership. I began asking myself, “What am I, a leader or a manager? How do those on my team perceive me? If I am a good manager, how do I become a great leader?”
At Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, it’s impossible not to think about these things because they‘ve been part of the company DNA since well before my employment began. In fact, three generations of leaders before me have paved the way in this regard.
One of the pivotal moments I can remember is during my first management assignment of our, at the time, only branch office in Avon, N.Y. I was young; I lacked confidence and experience, and I was facing what turned out to be a yearlong uphill battle to turn things around in this operation.
A couple months into it, I reached out to our president, Ray Isaac, for guidance. As any manager would do, I told him the problem, then offered my solution and suggestions.
His response to me was probably the single most important thing I’ve heard to this day and something I refer to as a game changer.
He said, “Are you asking me or telling me?” My nervous response was more of a question, “I guess I’m telling you?” To that he responded, “Good for you. Do it. I trust your judgment.”
Trust & Confidence
At the time, it meant a lot to me to have the trust of our company’s leadership, to the point where he’d allow me the opportunity to make these decisions. Looking back on this, however, I realize what a profound difference this made in my life, both personally and professionally.
I’m certain I asked him questions to which he already had the answers and could have easily rattled off the solutions. Instead, he made a conscious decision to instill leadership in me by allowing me to make these decisions myself.
It was at this point in my career when I began to gain confidence in myself and things began to move in a positive direction all around me. Others in this situation might have taken a different approach and possibly used this as an opportunity to display their vast knowledge of the subject based on their many years of experience. The impact of this approach has stayed with me for 14 years.
Humility & Culture
The many great leaders who have impacted their organizations in such profound ways all over the world have taught us that leadership is about service to others. In the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, this is referred to as Level 5 Leadership — someone who blends genuine personal humility with intense professional will.
The ability to show humility is one of the greatest strengths a leader can have and allows them to build trust and respect from their team.
This notion brings me back to my days growing up playing on a multitude of sports teams. I regularly reflect back on the teams in which we found success versus others where we had continuous struggles.
Other than the perhaps obvious difference of skill level, what was the underlying difference between the successful and the not so successful teams? Was it the coach? Was it the players?
I relate these same questions to areas of our organization where I’ve had the opportunity to spend time throughout my career. What makes some groups, departments or organizations, as a whole, successful while others struggle to get through the day?
The culture of the organization is the single most important factor when it comes to employee engagement, employee satisfaction and employee retention. The culture of an organization, as we define it, is a combination of the beliefs, values, attitudes, practices and conversations that take place within the company.
It’s our job as leaders to create an environment in which our team members feel comfortable enough to fully engage themselves, which will ultimately result in a strong culture. A strong culture will lead to long-term success.
Leadership Expert Simon Sinek says, “Start with why and create a triangle of trust through transparency.” I’m a firm believer in this philosophy and also understand the absence of such can have a long-term detrimental impact on your business.
Another philosophy from “Good to Great” talks about the lasting signs of Level 5 Leadership, particularly how a true Level 5 Leader can leave the organization and it will still be able to thrive for years to come.
It isn’t about simply putting out today’s fire, but instead it’s about building a successful foundation that exists well beyond your time with the company. As a service manager in the HVACR business, this is mostly much easier said than done.
Empower & Enable
I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to great leadership practices, both within our organization and also through dozens of outside leadership sources. For these opportunities, I will be forever grateful. In my role as service manager of residential and commercial service at Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, I find myself in a position to pay it all forward.
It’s my commitment to help those around me to become stronger leaders and better themselves — ultimately improving their quality of life.
There are many different versions of “The E’s of Leadership,” which may include Envision, Engage, Encourage, Excite, Equip and Empower. The two that have always been the most powerful to me are Empower and Enable.
As leaders, we must first empower those around us to make the necessary decisions required within their job duties. You need to set clear expectations for them and be sure they fully understand they have your support.
The second, and most important, is to enable them — get out of their way and let them do it! I aim to provide the same opportunities I received to those around me. To do so, I must do both, empower and then enable. This is the most powerful way we can instill leadership qualities in those around us, which will help to build the bench strength needed for any organization to be successful for years to come.
Earlier, I asked, “What is the difference between being a manager and being a leader?” The answer is actually quite simple.
First, strong leaders have people who follow them because they believe in their vision and want to help them achieve their goals. Managers have people who work for them to implement the day-to-day tasks needed to get the job done.
Second, leaders leave a lasting impression on their teams or groups for many years, even after their departure from the organization because of the culture they created.
Third, leaders live their life looking at themselves in the mirror every day, making sure they themselves are living up to the morals and values, professionally and personally, that they expect of their teams.
Lastly and most important to me, we as leaders must be humble. When you reach a point where it’s not about you anymore — instead, your concern is always others first — you are now leading your organization and should expect great things to come.