“What is…” Wednesday – What is Leadership? Gini Dietrich’s Take

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Guest blogger alert! We are HONORED to have the one and only Gini Dietrich sharing with us her take on leadership on this “What is…” Wednesday.

So, Gini, what is leadership?

I remember being a young whippersnapper in the big agency world (it wasn't THAT long ago!). I could not wait until someone gave me a chance to manage others. I just knew that would be my big break!

The chance came a lot sooner that I expected…or probably deserved. I was all of maybe 25 and a young woman a couple of years older than me was on probation. My supervisor really wanted to give her one more shot at turning things around and she figured it was a good way for me to cut my teeth on management.

I failed. Miserably.

The young woman on probation wasn’t going to make it, but no one told me that. I met with her once a day to review the goals she’d be given and to provide feedback on where to improve. The first couple of meetings were hard – she did NOT want to be there (and, really, who can blame her?). And then she just stopped showing up. She was gone about two weeks after they’d "given" her to me to manage.

From there, I began to move up the ladder, to my great surprise. Who promotes a person who can’t keep someone employed for more than two weeks? But I guess that was just a test to see how I would handle myself; not to see if she’d stay.

But on my reviews every year, I heard a lot of really great things and two worrisome things:

“Learn to be more strategic and stop complimenting people all the time. You have to be critical and give people things to work on. If all you do is compliment them, they’ll never learn.”

So what did I do? I stopped complimenting so much. Great management tool, huh? And I didn’t get any better. I like to help people feel good about the work they do. I hate to be micromanaged. And I hate process and structure. I assumed everyone worked that way. Turns out those are three really bad traits for a manager.

I began to feel badly about myself and tried really hard to develop traits that I was told made a good manager. I kept stalling.

Managers vs. Leaders

What no one recognized in me were my leadership traits; they were too busy trying to fit me into their corporate ladder box. And I didn't know the difference between manager and leader (or had the confidence) to be able to say, "Yoo hoo! This isn't the right fit for me!"

So what's the difference, you ask?

I love the way the Wall Street Journal defines it:

“– The manager administers; the leader innovates.

– The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.

– The manager maintains; the leader develops.

– The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.

– The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.

– The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.

– The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.

– The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.

– The manager imitates; the leader originates.

– The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

– The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.

– The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.”

The nice thing is that organizations need both managers and leaders; there isn't a right way or a wrong way. It's up to you to define which you are and have the confidence to stand up and say, "Yoo hoo! This isn't for me!"

Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc., and the author of Spin Sucks, a top 10 social media blog and an AdAge Power 150 blog. For more information, check out Spin Sucks Pro. It launches on May 2!

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio


  1. Alison Bailin says:

    Thanks so much to Gini for this post. For me, I’ve always had the leadership thing – never scared to take stand, never scared to speak up in group and always called upon by my teachers, sports teams and family as the default leader for as long as I can remember. For me, it was more about learning that sometimes to be a good leader, you have to follow, listen and even step back. I still struggle at times, but am a work in progress. Great post and additional insight.

    • That’s funny, Alison! I’m the opposite because I’m an introvert. But you’re absolutely right that a good leader has to be a good listener. I always joke that if you ask a person about his or herself, they’ll always think you’re brilliant. And you never opened your mouth!

  2. Nice points, Gini–and the one in your comment above is especially important! I’ve been reminding myself of that lately whenever I’m confused about how to move a conversation forward. Just ask the other person about himself/herself.

    How should young professionals who are more oriented toward leadership than management go about tackling the corporate ladder? Try to get into a management position regardless and just be very aware that it will take a little bit of mental gymnastics to have the right mindset for those duties? Or is it better to seek opportunities to take leadership of tasks and initiatives, and avoid management, even if that means it may be more difficult to take the next step up the ladder, because there are fewer leadership than management positions in most organizations?

    • I think you can’t avoid management, if you want to climb the corporate ladder. If your direct supervisor doesn’t recognize your leadership skills, find an internal mentor who does. That will be your surest way to climb without having to be a manager.

  3. todd lyden says:

    Seriously, I am starting a petition somewhere for the G D Guide to management and cooking…
    (ok something other than GD)

    Hell, I’ll put it together myself from the blog postings- I dare say you have enough for a pamphlet at least!

  4. Thanks for this perspective on leading vs. managing!

  5. Thanks so much for your perspective. Really appreciate this take on managing versus leading.

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