4 Hats Leaders Wear
by Stew Bolno, MBA, EdM
Lee Iacocca was fond of a quote relating to working in a business. It was, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” This is fine when applied to employees of an organization. However, executives and managers within your organization don’t have the luxury of making a choice. Your role and your challenge is, quite simply, to lead.
Fortunately, research reveals that leadership is not solely an inborn trait. This means that the core elements of leadership can be learned and applied. Executives have the responsibility to attract and maintain productive followers who contribute to a profitable bottom line. However, if you are unwilling to demonstrate leadership behaviors to your team members, perhaps you should sign up for another position.
As a “non-celebrity type leader,” you don’t enjoy the perks of politicians or Fortune 100 CEO’s. You don’t have a large and highly paid staff of “advisors” or advance personnel who provide you with talking points. You don’t have access to professional pollsters, publicists, or a valet whose job it is to lay out your clothes. However, you do possess the ability to make close contact with those you lead. You have the potential to be an immediate, as well as long-term, influence on the way your department and employees present themselves to associates, customers, and each other. It is important to use these benefits to full advantage.
To help you in your task there are four roles that, when mastered, will raise your level of competence and influence. You are unlikely to feel equally at ease acting within each of these roles…no one does. However, you know that in your personal life you must adapt to the situation as required. Once you understand your various business roles, you will be able to wear each hat comfortably and increase the level of allegiance and performance from those who count on you for leadership.
Effective leaders know that to truly LEAD they must wear four distinct hats. The first hat is that of a life-long Learner. The second is that of an Engager. Third, is the hat of the Assessor. And fourth, is the hat worn by the Director. Let’s examine each hat in a little more detail.
The Leader as Learner
As an executive or manager you are responsible to know a heck of a lot about your area of specialization. However, you will not be successful unless you know more than a little bit about your individual tendencies, organizational politics, interpersonal behavior, the art of influence, and time-tested communication skills. And, unless you demonstrate curiosity and a fierce desire to learn, you can’t really expect your team members to focus on improving their own abilities. Many large companies have “Chief Learning Officers.” Their core responsibility is to create the circumstances that encourage employees to become lifelong learners. Attitudes and behaviors that facilitate this goal are personal humility, open minds, and a focus on the future. Within your sphere of influence, this position of CLO needs to be staffed by you.
The Leader as Engager
Your own history tells you that the bosses who got the most effective performance from your efforts were those who were able to create a vision and gain buy-in from you and your co-workers. Engaging others does not necessarily require charisma, charm, or a rah-rah personality. Leaders who help their people to thrive have a big-picture perspective, yet have the ability to develop concrete methods of coaching their team members to obtain and measure success. They are able to identify unique motivational elements that encourage high performance levels. Since people are different, Engagers deeply respect the potential and uniqueness of every individual on the team. This will transmit to others that you have an expectation that individuals are prepared to sacrifice selfish achievements that may be at odds with the larger vision. At your place of business, consider yourself to be the Head Coach as well as a manager by proudly wearing your Engager hat.
The Leader as Assessor
A famous Russian adage is “Trust, but verify.” Blind optimism only goes so far. As a leader you must excite your staff to develop and achieve meaningful goals that are congruent with the vision of your company and your division. Results matter. Are you prepared to be critical of your income statements, your profit numbers, your expenses, and your customer count? Remember, what gets measured gets attention. Set and review the standards on a regular basis. This approach increases the potential for optimal profitability. When goals are achieved, good things happen; Updated equipment gets purchased, staffing budgets are increased, morale becomes higher, and your boss won’t bother you with insignificant matters. Wow! Talk about a Return on Investment.
The Leader as Director
A plan may look good on paper, but that does not mean that everything plays out as the leader envisions. In movies, we know that most scenes require more than one take. Sometimes, small changes need to be made. An effective leader, when wearing the hat of Director, has a profound understanding of his or her role and has a macro view for success. Yet this leader recognizes that the goal is to make the actors the stars of the show. Skillful application of targeted and appropriate feedback must be applied in a manner so that the leader is always on the lookout to reward superior behavior and results.
Year after year, decade after decade, there are hundreds of topics and articles focused on the challenge of leadership. Every so often a new trend takes hold. One year it may be “excellence,” the next, “accountability” or “employee involvement,” or “commitment”. Sadly, it appears that all too often those in positions of authority overlook the basics and focus on information they obtained from their most recent golfing buddy. Some of us refer to this malady as management by best seller.
Regardless of the hot item of the day, one constant remains. The main objective of the leader is to attract and maintain a team of self motivated, enthusiastic, and contributing people. In the spirit of personal responsibility and setting a solid example, nothing beats a comment made to me by one of the wisest bosses I ever had. The advice is simply this, “the most productive technique for to creating willing followers is to focus your energy on being a more effective leader.”
About the Author
Stew Bolno (MBA/EdM) is a Senior Learning and Development Consultant with Team Builders Plus. He has facilitated seminars on Leadership and coached executives since 1984. He has taught management courses on the university level and has conducted leadership workshops at the Wharton Small Business Development Center.