The real difference between management and leadership

A true story.

LANDING their first job after graduation is something that most people can never forget, and is at the forefront of memories when we get older and progress in our careers. I started my first job at a training company in September 2006. The first four months were unforgettable. My excitement was up to the roof and my energy was palpable. I was profoundly motivated and dedicated to getting up every single day to go to work and learn new things, but all of that disappeared quickly. The company was going through some financial difficulties. Consequently, the board met to discuss a proposal for budget cuts to save money for the business. They opted for layoffs to balance the books.

On that day, I was having a normal conversation with my manager Safwan Sibai and two other colleagues. An hour later, I was on my way out when Mr. Sibai asked me to stay for a while. I looked at him and asked, “Is there a problem?” He just handed me a letter without saying anything. It was my termination notice. I finished reading the letter wondering why it happened like this despite my dedication and hard work. I took the letter and proceeded to leave. As I opened the door he said, “Do not be in a rush; I have something to tell you.” To which I replied, ““Why? I lost my job, and nobody cares.”

Mr. Sibai paused for a moment and gave me another letter titled ‘resignation’, and to my surprise, it was his resignation letter. I then suffered a third shock when I was handed another letter to read: an apology letter to Mr. Sibai about the decision to terminate my employment contract. As it turned out, Mr. Sibai opposed the termination decision and subsequently chose to resign as he could not accept it nor enforce it. His resignation came as a shock to the senior management, and as a result, they reconsidered their position. My position was not terminated after all. I asked myself why someone in his position would resign and lose his job for one of his staff members.

Mr. Sibai made the point clear the next day by telling me that leadership is not a position, it is an action. He explained, “To lead is to go first and face the danger for the people in your custody, not to sacrifice them for the perks of the position you hold.” Mr. Sibai not only saved my job but also taught me a valuable lesson about leadership, which is that a leader is more of a responsibility than a position.


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