The Many Roles of a Leader

The many roles of a leader

Last week, I had the great pleasure of working with a team striving to be better leaders. One of the sessions we ran questioned ‘what makes a great leader’.

We explored the desirable traits of a leader and talked about the many hats we have to wear as a people managers and individuals who want to help others achieve more.

Not an exclusive list — some food for thought on those many hats we consciously and sub-consciously wear every day.


A Leader as a Manager

Ah… let’s begin with the ‘manager’ — this is where we all begin as a people leader.

We exist to manage. Delegate. Give action. Performance review. They all sounded a bit negative — so let’s add some positives — an advisor, a team builder, a communicator, a strategist.

Essentially as a manager — we are managing the business and the company’s risk. This sounds more beneficial to the company, less so for the employee.

That said, the manager role brings structure for an employee — which can increase their feelings of being safe and happy. Structure comes in many forms — operating cadence, regular meetings and reporting — most importantly communicating.

We all fear the unknown to different degrees.

The most crucial skill of a manager is to have regular communication with employees, even when there is nothing to communicate. Absence of regular communication leads to gossip, speculation and distrust. On the flip side, regular communication shows openness, transparency, employee engagement, a positive working culture which all lead to high productivity and greater company loyalty.

Often managers just relate communication to the ‘cascade’ which comes from the company. I’d say think bigger.

Managers see patterns, attend different meetings, see other company communications which could be interesting for teams to hear (within reason of course).

Remember everything YOU know, is not UNIVERSALLY known.

An easy way to improve your managerial skills is dedicate a regular time slot to communication and Q&A. An increased connection to your team will be instantly achieved.


A Leader as an Expert

Leaders are often promoted in recognition of their expertise and knowledge, regarded as being a guru in a particular subject area. Humans also like to feel they belong and are needed, so…


Balancing your use of this knowledge is a skill.

Over use of your knowledge can create reliance on you by team. In particular, forcing your knowledge on people can create resentment — ‘I am capable myself, I don’t need my boss stepping in’. To truly scale as a leader, your team need to step up and into those knowledge areas.

On the flip side, not using your knowledge might leave the team detached from you, knowing you have the expertise and not sharing/using it. Frankly, in crunch moments (like the end of financial periods), expertise is often needed to speed up decisions and get to the result faster.

The best way to let your team lead the ‘expert’ conversation is in training. The temptation as the expert is to be the person at the front ‘preaching’. Instead, why not ask a capable member of the team to present. You can supplement as required, however, you’ll find your team will probably help the team member out too, sharing their knowledge and experience.


A Leader as a Mentor

The mentor role has some subtleties if you are playing a mentor as a manager. A mentor is usually a subject matter expert who can advise with context. You give advice based on your own relevant experience.

Advice is also elective — a mentee is asking for advice and you provide based upon their needs.

Mentorship is reassuring for employees. It lets them know they are not alone. You’ve been in their shoes and you can help them navigate through. Whilst official mentoring isn’t usually done with first line managers, managers assume the unofficial role of mentor everyday.

Mentoring as a manager also reinforces the career path. Your experiences have led to the manager’s position (and reassurance again that you survived the journey).


A Leader as a Coach

Maybe an employee has a problem which hasn’t been framed yet. Perhaps you become the coach to tease out what the real challenges are before jumping into solution mode.

Perhaps also, your employee or colleague just needs some help to find the solution themselves. Often as a people leader we jump to solutions and don’t take time for coaching and self-reflection, which leads employees to become dependent on the solutions we propose, effectively leaving us to be the manager again — give the solution and the employee will act.

A cycle then begins. We are throwing the ball (the action) and then the employee fetches the ball (the solution). The cycle is then the proverbial ‘Monkey on your back’ each time an employee comes back.

Coaching allows for the employee to self discover — throwing their own ball — employees learn to ‘self-soothe’ in repetitive situations. The best way to encourage this is use of the G-R-O-W model which most organisations teach.

Using GROW you are assess if the employee needs more help (maybe assuming another role) and fosters self development.

(GROW is a technique of questioning which helps the employee find the desired goal and options to succeed, which they are fully committed to. Search for Sir John Whitmore and GROW.)


The Role Model Leader

Employees also look for reassurance in your own behaviours and values. It’s unsaid that they are watching all the time.

Good and Bad…

The Good….You have an opportunity to ‘shape’ employee behaviour subliminally. The greater the consistency and alignment to company values — the greater an employee’s compass will be to guide them when they are in a sticking situation.

The Bad… a leader is an automatic role model — whether you like it or not — just like a parent is to a child. Perhaps they might not agree with everything said and done, but by seeing leader behaviour — it’s a license to act that way.

A word of caution then for leaders of leaders. If you have high-achieving-bad-behaved leaders as role models, rest assured this is rubbing off on employees — you are reinforcing that you condone their behaviour and that the behaviour is ‘ok’ to mimic.

If you need convincing on everyone is a role model — read this article — Role Model.


A ‘Cheer’-Leader

Then the chips are down we are the ‘Cheer’-leader — to promote a positive mood.

It sounds an obvious point. Sometimes things happen and all our teams need is a positive chat to reenergise.

The trick here is to recognise the situations when a Cheerleader is needed. It’s easy to want to offer advice, fix, problem solve or even criticize when actually it’s time for a verbal cuddle and help pick an employee up from a low place.


So in every moment, let’s pick a hat or two….

Who are you as a manager? All of the above? Some of the above? The answer should be all.

Have you considered which roles are valued more by your team?

And do you consciously move between roles — or do you move without thinking? Next time you are in the moment — spare a thought for which role you are playing?

Being a leader is a difficult balance of being an expert, driving to goals, being a teacher, a coach and helping your employees to grow. The best leaders I have known are ‘fluid’ in their switch between roles. They take every moment as it comes, apply the right role and ensure employees feel empowered to succeed.


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