The word leader is not a synonym for manager. Everyone can be a leader. Leader is defined as:
a person or thing that leads.
It’s entirely possible for a people manager to be a poor leader (which would be bad). Likewise, an individual contributor who’s a great leader might be a horrible people manager (which is great as long as he/she stays an individual contributor). The only question is how well each individual leads. The Leadership Principles provide a framework for all of us to become better leaders.
That said, in practice, LPs can play out differently depending on your role. Let’s use Learn and Be Curious to illustrate the difference between an individual contributor and a people manager:
Learn and be curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Given this LP, as an individual contributor do you…
- Take time to learn something new or understand your systems better; read a book, watch a training video, build a PoC?
- Actively mentor someone else?
- Take on responsibility outside your area of expertise to stretch and grow?
- Actively seek out advice and feedback on your performance from peers or customers?
And, as a people manager, do you…
- Create space and time for your employees to explore and learn?
- Focus on how you arrived at the results rather than the results themselves?
- Support your employees moving to other teams so they can learn new skills?
- Encourage risk-taking by engineers on your team, and support them in doing so?
I’ve found asking the question “what does <particular LP> look like in my role?” is a great way to firm up my own thinking about the Leadership Principles.
Great leaders get more done through others. It doesn’t matter if the leader is an individual contributor or a people manager. What does matter is that they realize they are a leader and take it seriously.