The Role of a Leader
In any type of organization, regardless of the industry, the highest-level job is always the same. And understanding this role to which we have been called is essential if we are to be good stewards.
A leader is charged with providing:
In addition, we have to keep in view whether we will treat our people like people (love them), or like objects (use them).
Clarity pertains chiefly to the leader’s vision, which is comprised of the core values of the organization, it’s mission, and the path to reach its long-term goals.
Core values are the framework for all decision making in the organization. They are the cornerstone of the managers’ toolkit as they develop their subordinates and teach them how to make decisions in alignment with the organization’s calling. Core values are most obvious in actions—in the behavior of the management team and in the behavior they allow from those in their charge. These are not aspirational values, but the present and living DNA of the organization.
The mission of the organization is mainly inward-focused: simple and easy to remember, it tells internal stakeholders (employees, etc.) why they do the things they do each day. The mission directs the organization to its long-term goals. These are typically three to five years away, and further the mission and values of the organization. Long-term goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timebound (SMART), and should take into account the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) of the organization.
Next, the leader must communicate the vision. Communication should be Clear, Concise, Constant, Consistent, and in the proper Context for the audience. Ideally informing every conversation, the communication of the vision aligns the organization by reminding the stakeholders what is at stake (the goals), empowering them to pursue the correct ends (mission), and reinforcing the correct standards of behavior (core values).
Next, a leader needs to execute the vision. Once the management team has determined the direction for the company, a plan should be prepared. While the assumptions behind sophisticated five-year plans rarely survive 90 days, a more reasonable approach is to pick broad long-term targets that allow for some flexibility, more specific one-year goals, and very thorough and specific 90-day plans. Delegation of responsibilities follows, as well as the establishment of accountability, performance metrics, any necessary training plans, and a review process. Always prioritize strategic objectives.
Typically, execution in an organization can be linked to no more than 10 high-level processes in four functional areas:
1. Attraction and retention of customers
2. Product and/or service delivery
3. Finance and accounting
Key metrics should be tracked for each of these functional areas. An executive dashboard should be tracked on a regular basis.
Sustainability is about Risk Mitigation, Program/ Process Improvement, and Succession Planning.
Risk mitigation includes appropriate understanding of Market Risk, Enterprise or Operational Risk, External Environmental Risk, and Governance/Leadership Risk, each of which can be further subdivided. Different levels of management will be more or less concerned with a particular type of risk than with the others, but all levels of management should be broadly aware that the different types exist.
Program/process improvement has often been called working “on the business” rather than working “in the business.” Flow charts and process mapping can find more effective ways to execute; a full-scale automation initiative would be a higher-level example.
Succession planning answers the question, “What happens if that person doesn’t show up to work tomorrow?” Answer this question for each role on the organizational chart, through (for example) cross-training, creating organizational slack, and preparing a virtual bench. It also includes contingency planning for key processes so that the organization doesn’t miss a beat when crisis rears its ugly head.
Any leadership framework is open to abuse if it is applied in the wrong spirit. The principles described here should always be applied with the goal of loving people, and never of using them as means to an end. Saint Paul teaches that without charity, we are nothing (1 Cor. 13). Relationships really are the most important part of business, the pillars that hold everything else up. Let us not lose sight of this fundamental insight and tenet of our faith.
JOHN OBERG was Founding President of the Austin Chapter and is current Board Member. He is a consultant who works with CEOs, executives, owners, or managing partners of growth organizations who want to improve organizational and individual performance.