Leadership Responsibilities

by Dr. Donald N. Sweet

Leadership is responsible for the mega issues surrounding an organization’s vision, communication of that vision, motivation, providing resources, results, organizational health and balancing stakeholder conflicting interests.  That sounds like some sort of text book statement, doesn’t it?  Be that as it may, leadership is responsible for all of those items.  How does leadership ensure they are effectively accomplished?

In our view the individual leader, alone at the top of the organization, is at a distinct disadvantage with this responsibility.  We believe there is a compelling need for a team to effectively guide the organization.  Therefore one of the most important responsibilities of top management is ensuring that the entire management team is comprised of good leaders.  The Gazelles suggest asking CEOs the following question of their leaders, “Would you enthusiastically rehire everyone on your team?”

The two important activities that we believe provide a CEO with the most leverage are a strong management/leadership team and a healthy organizational culture.  Top on the list is recruiting, motivating, and retaining a highly functioning management/leadership team.  We are not suggesting a leader should focus on finding the best functional experts.  We actually prefer leadership teammates that have had multiple functional management roles and have a track record of putting the team ahead of their functional area.  Our belief is that team players trump functional whizzes in an organization.

For leadership teams to be effective they must be comprised of people that both trust one another and can accept ideas that are better than their own.  They must be able to argue the merits of issues passionately and then commit to the final decision.  They have to be ready to be held accountable by others on the team and in turn to hold teammates accountable when appropriate.  Finally, they must all put the team results above their own functional area of responsibility.  For more information about building high functioning teams see Pat Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

We believe your corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage your organization can create.  Everything else from products to processes to technology can be copied.  Your culture can be imitated but it can’t be copied.  It remains uniquely yours. Culture is what draws and keeps the right people on your team.  It is also the lubrication that keeps the organizational machine running smoothly.

Central to culture are core values and purpose.  Core values form the basis of the social contract team members have with each other and the organization.  They are the straightforward rules of engagement both internally and externally.  Purpose is the reason the organization exists at a higher level than just making profits.  Don’t misunderstand, profits are important but not the higher purpose that unites the organization.

Companies that solely focus on profits usually attract employees that are only focused on a paycheck.  That is not enough for any of us to be truly dedicated.  Consider how much of our time and energy is spent at the job.  If there is not a higher level commitment, we won’t give our all because the work is not truly fulfilling.

Building a strong culture and a management team are at the highest levels of a leader’s responsibility.  Sure it’s important to get the everyday tasks done.  However a well-functioning team should have that responsibility.  The leader must champion these more important items, allocate resources to debate and codify them, then continuously reinforce them with the organization.  These activities will enable the organization to be ever more effective in the marketplace.