"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already." ~ John Buchan
Being the senior leader of an organization is a tough job. Of course, if you are a senior leader, you already know this. People at all levels of your organization regularly place a diverse array of expectations on you and your time. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on how you should do your job and even what your job should be. And they don't mind telling you (and/or everyone else) when they don't think you're doing it right.
In such a cacophonous environment full of disparate and often opposing demands, it can be difficult for senior leaders to discern just where the line should be drawn between their job and everyone else’s. Regardless of the size of the organization or the specifics of your particular org chart, what are the roles all senior leaders must fulfill in order for their organization to thrive and grow? Opinions vary—so here’s mine: a list of a few of the roles that I believe are essential for all senior leaders to hold.
1. Keeper of the Mission & Vision for the Organization:
Part of your role is to champion the mission and vision of your organization and to ensure the team is always moving toward those ends. Because vision leaks and mission slips out of focus over time, you have to make it your job to keep the mission front and center in your people’s eyes and keep casting vision for the better world you’re all trying to create by pursuing it. And while you should consistently avoid micro-managing your people, in any area where you see the vision or mission not being effectively pursued and honored, you have full authority to step in and make whatever changes are necessary to bring that area back in alignment with the mission and vision.
2. Keeper of the Values:
Another part of your role is to continually promote and champion the core values of the organization. Every action you take, every conversation you have, every request you make of your team needs to be clearly grounded in and motivated by one or more of your organization’s core values. Anything you’re doing that can’t be directly tied to your core values in this way—either drop it or delegate it to someone else. As the visionary leader of your organization, you are the embodiment of the values. If you don’t live them, who will? As with the mission and vision, any time you see the values not being honored in a process or project, you have full authority to step in and do whatever is required to see that the core values are not undermined.
3. Voice of Reality:
Many leadership experts say the chief job of a leader is to “define reality” for those they lead. Another perhaps more useful way to say this is simply “naming what is going on.” Part of the role of the senior leader is to help the team see the truth of where they are and what needs to happen next to move forward. In this sense, you become like the “red dot” on the map in the shopping mall, identifying “We Are Here.” This defining work includes several areas, such as where we are financially, where we are relationally, where we are with respect to our mission, vision, and goals, where we are in relation to our values, and so on.
4. Developer of Teams:
Part of your role is to lead, coach, and mentor the core group of leaders who report directly to you and have significant oversight over the organization as a whole—in particular, the core leadership team of the organization. For you to do this effectively, this team must be filled with people whom you believe in and trust and who (like you) think in terms of “we” instead of “me” (in other words, Stage 4 Tribal Leaders). You have full authority to choose those team members whom you know you can work with and who have the appropriate skills for this role.
5. Chief Encourager and Celebrator:
Senior leaders are typically wired to always be pushing forward toward the next challenge, so this can be a tough role for them to fill. But celebration and affirmation for a job well done is a critical part of every senior leader’s job. You must be the champion and cheerleader for those you lead—frequently encouraging them as they move toward a goal and regularly pausing to reflect on both victories and defeats and celebrate success as well as lessons learned. This rhythm of engagement and reflection/celebration is essential to your team’s overall health and critical to your role as their leader.
6. Final Gatekeeper for Hiring:
While you need not be a part of hiring every person in your organization, you need to be clear on which positions in the organization you want final say over when it comes to hiring, being careful to select those who not only have the skills needed for a particular position but also have the necessary character and willingness to live out the values, mission, and vision of the organization.
“Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program; it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.” ~ Lance Secretan