The word leader is defined as:
a person or thing that leads.
The word leader is not a synonym of manager. Everyone is a leader. 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 would be good 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 manger, 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 employee’s 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. Give it a try.