Leadership is action! It’s what you do that counts, not what you say

Managers have subordinates, leaders have followers.

That short statement took me many years to learn. When I was young, and thrust into a management role way before I was ready, I thought leadership meant “getting people to do things”. And maybe, in the end, that is what it is. But it’s not by telling, or coercing or bribing. It’s way more subtle than that. And if you are looking to carve out a career in managing a recruitment business, developing your leadership abilities will be key to your success as a manager of recruiters.

Consultants are typically demanding, fickle, selfish even. Merely managing the process won’t be enough for you to build an exceptional business.

The good news is that leadership can be learned. It can be improved.

And it has to be — because creating an environment where people want to do things, rather than feel they have to, is the difference between great and mediocre. And yet leadership is so hard to define and so hard to find in our industry as well.

But perhaps it’s not surprising. Because it is true that many of us in management roles in recruitment have been promoted into leadership positions because we were good recruiters. Or we started our own business, hoping initially to just survive, but our energy and drive finds us now with teams of people to lead. We may, if we are lucky have learned to manage along the way, but who ever taught us about true leadership? What is it? What does a leader do? How does a leader behave?

To really make this point, I am going to pose a question. It’s rhetorical, but it’s directed at anyone reading this who is, or wants to be, a leader.

“Why would anyone want to be led by you”?

It’s a frightening question. And with good reason. You cannot do anything in this business without followers. We know it’s all about the people. And in these “empowered”, Generation Y times, followers are hard to find, right? People don’t follow blindly, and they don’t simply do what they are told – unless they believe. So managers of recruitment businesses had better know what it takes to lead effectively. You must find ways to engage people and rouse their commitment to the company goals.

But first, what are we talking about when we say “leadership”?

Well, there are many definitions. But, in this industry, knowing the psyche of the average recruitment consultant, I believe it’s best encapsulated by two, linked characteristics.

You see, I have come to understand that the people who matter to us most are NOT the ones with the most credentials. People we look up to are not the ones with the most money or the most awards. The people who matter, the ones that we respect and will ultimately follow, are the ones that care and the ones who’ve made a difference in our lives.

That is leadership at the level we should be focused on now. Leaders will be judged by their ability to impact people and make a difference.

Think of your own history in the recruitment business. Is there a person or two who made a difference, taught you things, mentored, and influenced your values? Showed faith when others didn’t. Inspired you through their actions? That’s leadership. And that’s who we have to be for the next wave of recruiters coming through.

So there we have it defined. Leadership is about truly caring and about making a meaningful difference. Leadership is not about talking a good game. It’s not about thumping the table like some deranged half-time football coach. It’s not about dreaming up an esoteric vision statement that no one believes in or acts on.

Leadership is Action

It’s what you do that counts. It’s your behaviour that people will remember and emulate. It’s your example that people will follow.

Leadership is action.

About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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8 Responses to Leadership is action! It’s what you do that counts, not what you say

  1. Crash [Paul] March 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    All that may be true – but it’s even more than that IMO. It’s about integrity. It’s about being consistent and fair minded, even when your wife is drinking too much or you’re concerned that you’re staff are a reflection of your own abilities.

    It’s also about inter-personal honesty. People are intuitive by nature – sometimes what isn’t said speaks volumes.

    Management [by definition] is a position of power, with power [as the adage goes] comes responsibility. Broken down, that means that the manager has the ability to respond – to pressure, to disappointment and to success –

    In the end, too me, management is about who you are as a person, not what you do, or even what you’ve “accomplished”.

    • Greg Savage March 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

      Agreed Paul. But to your last sentence, I think we are on the same page on this. “Who you are as a person” will in fact dictate “what you do”. Indeed it will impact your behaviour in relation to integrity for example – and its THAT behavior people will follow. So, taking your example of “integrity”. Preaching about honesty and fair dealing means little compared to how you act in front of your staff when n ethical dilemma arises. Its how you ACT as a leader they will remember, not what you said you were going to do or should do

  2. Brad March 9, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    If I think about the most influential people in my career or “leaders”, they all have a trait that is hard for me to tag with a header. But typically they are people with “presence”, people who are consistent in all environments and command a natural respect. A good post, thanks Greg.

  3. Lesley Horsburgh March 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    I’ll never forget something you said Greg when I first interviewed you for an article in 1999 – that you had a commitment to yourself to always respond to phone messages or email within 24 hours. It’s stuck with me and today I work with a gazillion managers who at best take several weeks to reply to messages or not at all. It’s a small piece of the pie but one that has resonated in my job. It’s a respect thing and as we all know respect is earnt – you may not be liked as a manager and that’s fine but you don’t have the respect of your people you’re no manager at all!

  4. Laura Kesler March 25, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    Greg, I am still not quite sure how I wound up at this Article! However, everything you said rings true – ACTION. What each Executive/Leader brings to the table, as a “person”, moving forward with the utmost business integrity.
    I’ve been in the IT Staffing Industry a long time, have seen and come to know MANY types of people. It is how we have behaved as motivators in our career that cultivate success! “Why would anyone want to be led by you?” In the end, we lead by the example of values, integrity, movtivation, creativity and by leaving those feeling empowered and excited about accomplishments!
    Glad I found this blog! Would love to stayed tuned!

  5. PM Hut April 27, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Hi Greg,

    I’m focusing lately on Leadership on PM Hut as it’s becoming a very important and hot topic.

    Your post provides an excellent insight on the concept of a leader vs. a manager, and how to be a leader. I’m sure that PM Hut readers will appreciate your views on the topic, and that’s why I would like to republish your post, in full, on PM Hut (under the leadership category, where many project managers will benefit from it.

    Please either email or contact me through the “Contact Us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

    • Greg Savage April 27, 2012 at 1:36 am #

      Hi PM

      Thanks for your interest and thanks for asking. You may use the article with pleasure. All I ask that it is clearly attributed to the source and with a link back to this blog
      Thanks and regards

  6. Charles November 25, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Many years ago I was fortunate to be instructed in 4 Quadrant Leadership by Wilf Jarvis, who states that true leaders have a powerful, positive influence on their people.


    Wilf would concur that: managers manage things, Leaders lead people. He also concurs with your assertion that we can learn, in fact he quotes Victor Frankl: “ No one can take from me the freedom to choose how I will respond to what happens to me.”

    You might enjoy a conversation with him…..

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