In the first half of the 20th century there was a belief that Scientific Management was the new way forward. Scientific Management was the herald of a new era, removing the need for skilled craftsmen, for example on Henry Ford’s production lines, and making the factory owners richer. The principle was simple; reduce complicated tasks to a series of simple tasks, each task being performed by a different person. People were treated as machines and doomed to boring, repetitive tasks. But with social changes and world wars, people decided that they wanted to be treated as such, and not as spare parts for a machine, and they insisted on being given rewarding and interesting work. Many psychologists began experimenting in the area of motivation, and eventually began suggesting that there were benefits to be had from leading people, rather than pushing them and punishing them.

So how do leaders differ from managers?

They say that, a manager “does the thing right”, and a leader “does the right thing”. They also say that, “A leader is born, not made,” but none of these statements have much to do with real leadership. Oh sure, most leaders do the right thing most of the time, but what the “right thing” is, and who gets to decide what the right thing is? And who are “they” anyway and how does one get to become one?

Doing the “right thing” seems quite a simple concept, but consider for a moment that In times of battle some unlucky leaders have had to sacrifice the lives of a few to save many. If you were the husband, wife, parent or child of one of the sacrificed “few”, would you say the leader did “the right thing”? How now if you were a relative of one of the “many” that was saved? Suddenly “right” and “wrong” don’t seem that simple any more.

And saying that leaders are “born not made” is a cop-out. It is true that some people are born with natural leadership abilities, but everyone can improve and develop with training and practice.

I believe a true leader inspires others to greatness, and they do this through their direct influence. They help others achieve what those individuals thought was impossible for them to do. A project manager who is also a leader can encourage a team to perform much better than a group of individuals can.

So in many ways a leader is like a coach, someone who works with you, encourages you and gets the best out of you. It doesn’t mean that a leader will never push you or never move you out of your comfort zone. Often it’s the reverse; athletes for example employ a coach to do precisely that.

Johnny Weissmuller, the star of the early Tarzan movies in the 1930s and 40s was a very powerful man. Before he acted Tarzan he was an Olympic swimmer who won five gold medals and three bronze medals in 1924 and 1928, in the 100, 400, and 800-metre freestyle relay. He also won a bronze medal as a member of the U.S. water polo team. Obviously his huge strength gave him a big advantage over his competitors; and yet not so many years later, teenage girls were breaking his records. Obviously they werent more powerful than Johnny – the difference was in the technique and the coaching – the leadership, if you like. If you can tap into true leadership you will cause those around you to achieve more than they think they can.