C-Level Insights | Leadership Isn’t a Job Description – It’s a Behavior

Have you ever watched a flock of birds or a school of fish and seen them change direction instantly, in tandem as a unit? How does this happen? Which one is the leader, and why? Wouldn’t it be great if businesses leaders could create this kind of unity among the entire organization?

First, let’s consider the role of a leader in a business unit, as well as how great leaders behave. What is the function of managers; do they just follow the leader? My observation is that superb leaders are generalists; they see the big picture. Instead of trying to be the experts in any given field, they build a team with the right balance of strengths in functional areas, then act as the team coach. In sports, the coach never gets on the field but sets the game strategy, then guides the players who implement the strategy.

In the business world, successful leaders establish a culture, an environment, in which employees can thrive. The leader removes obstacles and allows everyone to realize their full potential. Successful cultures have trust, integrity, respect, and open communication among their core beliefs. An environment like this empowers people.

Leaders, or the leadership team, set the business objectives and establish the strategies to be implemented to achieve the objectives. More importantly, leaders recognize a need for change as it arises, then effect that change with a sense of urgency — with everyone understanding and participating. How do leaders recognize when change is needed?  Through an ongoing process of team feedback and participation.

Second, what do managers do? Typically experts in their field, they employ team members with even more focused expertise. Managers are the team captains — the tacticians — and are out there on the field. They implement the strategies, apply the process, set the individuals objectives, and reward the team’s performance. By being on the field of play, they’re often in the best position to identify obstacles to performance. If the community of leaders and managers works well and people feel empowered, the resulting feedback system helps leaders identify any need for change. So why doesn’t this always happen?

Often, the roles are confused either by a leader on the field, or by players on the sideline calling the plays. From the outset, everyone’s function must be clear. Moreover, if the leaders don’t lead by example they create a feeling of mistrust — so no one speaks up when problems arise. In some cases feedback is punished not praised. If the aforementioned flock of birds behaved as some business organizations unfortunately do, we’d see lots of mid-air collisions instead of smooth, fast, graceful changes in direction.

Indeed, leadership isn’t a job description — it’s a role that one earns, and which must be demonstrated each and every moment. Only then can the rest of the flock know whom to follow, and why.

By Steven Rogers, Principal, Redstones LLC