Today's Challenge: What Do Leaders Do?

How many times are you tempted to answer a question with a question? This is actually a good leadership practice. The more we help others think, the better for everyone involved. I want to answer today’s question, “How many people can I lead?” with a question, “What do you think leaders do?” Your answer to my question may help you answer yours.
The issue of span of leadership is an important, centuries-old  question. If you get it wrong, you will stifle people and squeeze the life out of an organization. [tweet_box design="box_16_at" author="@leadersserve"]  If you get span of leadership right, you can liberate people and entire organizations.[/tweet_box]
If you want or need leaders who function predominately as managers – attempting to direct and control the activities of their direct reports, the jury is in… the Chinese military determined almost five thousand years ago the maximum span of control is 1:7. However, if you want your organization to reflect a more modern approach, the answer depends on the role you ask your leaders to fulfill.
What made the Chinese military command-and-control model work was the reality that leaders were educated, and the troops were largely unskilled and illiterate. Today the fundamental underpinning of commerce in the world has shifted. Workers are highly educated and increasingly specialists in their chosen field. These changes alone should inform the role of the leader. Other than a crisis situation, the place for traditional command-and-control style leadership is in the history books.
Here’s my quick list of some primary activities leaders must engage in to be successful in today’s world.
Today's Leader Provides…

  • Vision - Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. Where is the organization going? What are you trying to accomplish? What are you trying to become? Why does it matter? These are questions for leaders to answer.
  • Values –What beliefs do you want to drive the behavior of the organization? If you don’t tell people what is important to you, they will guess. The result becomes unpredictable.What beliefs do you want to drive the behavior of the organization? If you don’t tell people what is important to you, they will guess. The result becomes unpredictable.- people will either guess wrong, or different people will guess differently. Neither outcome fosters alignment.
  • Boundaries – What situations require your involvement? What can others decide and inform you of  later? What can be done with no follow-up required? The most famous example I know is the authority of a Ritz-Carlton employee to spend up to $2,000 to satisfy a guest. What are your boundaries? Are they clearly understood?
  • Resources – People need resources to be successful. In most organizations, staff and employees are at the complete mercy of leadership to meet these needs. It may be cash, people, equipment or some combination of the above. This is so critical I’ve led teams in the past in which team members asked me to make this my highest priority.
  • Education & Skills – There may be nothing more demotivating than to ask someone to accomplish a task they are not equipped to accomplish…unless it is the addition of incentives! Even the best people need knowledge and skills to be successful. Leaders don’t have to provide these personally – they do have to see the need is met.
  • Encouragement – Here’s the bottom line: A leader's words carry a tremendous amount of weight. There is no substitute for being affirmed by a leader. If a leader misses this part of his or her job description, we leave engagement and performance untapped. Remember, what gets recognized gets repeated.

If this is what you want your leaders to do, they can fulfill this role for far more than seven people.[GLS_Shield]
How many people can you lead?

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Alessandro Daliana

7 years ago

Yes, leaders do indeed need to have and share a vision with their community, however in order for the community to buy into the vision it has to provide them with more certainty in their lives than what they experience in the present. This is key to successful execution.
At ROKC ™ Leadership Coaching & Consulting we define leaders as "individuals who are are to see a less uncertain world and share it with their community, which inspires them to cooperate and collaborate in making it a reality."


7 years ago

Alessandro, thanks for joining the conversation! The only problem with providing "more certainty" is the unpredictability of the future. What I try to share are the potential benefits of the preferred future. In my experience, moving forward is usually more about faith and dissatisfaction with the status quo than about certainty. However, I do agree with Peter Drucker, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Mark

Fabio Pirrello

7 years ago

A leadership team have to provide a clear vision, tell people the driving values of the organization, establish boundaries of action, guarantee resources and so on. It is absolutely necessary. But please, leaders, remember to show up to your people. They want to see you saying all that stuff. The don't want to just read email (if they do) or listen to call conf with


7 years ago

Thank you, Fabio! You are correct. Leaders must show up. Check out my upcoming post by that same title. Mark


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