You can throw away your job description

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If you are a leader in a company or organization and have a detailed job description, throw it away. Job descriptions are useful for employees who need to understand the specific aspects of their job and responsibilities. But what person in leadership has ever been able to actually follow a specific list of duties and responsibilities? Leaders know that the nature of their role is more about focus and flexibility than about fulfilling a list of duties.

Countless books and articles on leadership rattle off a litany of skills, duties, attributes, and responsibilities necessary for effective leadership. But according to Vistage CEO group speaker Lawrence King, one attribute stands head and shoulders above all the rest — focus. “The more clarity you have about your role [as a leader], the more efficient and effective your performance will be. And the more you focus on your own role as a leader, the more others can focus on theirs.”

So what exactly should a leader focus on? Leadership is like bringing a series of hats to work, and at any point in time a leader may need to put on one hat or another, or even multiple hats at the same time. If you feel you need to have a job description, consider a document that lists the essential “hats” or functions of leadership. In my experience, there are at least six hats every corporate leader wears.

The Strategist Hat. Strategy sets the future direction of your company. It looks at the present scenario and external forces, decides on appropriate objectives, and determines the goals and action items necessary to reach those objectives. The leader is constantly asking future-oriented questions and guiding the processes already in place to move the company to that future. Strategy is more than just annual retreats and fat notebooks full of plans. It’s a way of thinking.

The Ambassador Hat. The leader of an organization embodies the face, purpose, and values of the organization. She represents the organization with every conversation she has with customers, suppliers, and the general public. You may have distinct marketing and sales staff, but as the leader, you are always the organization’s best marketing and sales staff member. Your conversations with customers are less about closing the deal and more about building the relationship, learning about your customer’s challenges and goals, and representing the future of your company.

The Inventor Hat. Some inventors spend their time huddled in laboratories attempting to create new products. Some spend their time with customers, finding out what their pain points and needs are, and developing new ideas for products or services to relive those needs. And some inventors have that dreamy look as they peer into the future and imagine things that do not yet exist. The leader can be any one of these forms of an inventor and is never satisfied with the status quo.

The Coach Hat. Great coaches are all about self-discovery, skill development, and the big picture perspective. You can send your employees to countless seminars and workshops, but nothing will hold a candle to the effectiveness of one-to-one coaching and mentoring. I personally recommend that you leave the whistle at home and coach with your words and your time. Coach with encouragement, instruction, and direction.

The Steward Hat. Chances are, as a leader you are not the owner of the corporation, but you are working at one level or another for the owner or owners/stockholders. That means you are a steward. You have been entrusted to manage the resources of another in order to accomplish their objectives and goals. This requires a unique perspective on leadership, recognizing that you have been given considerable freedom to make decisions and invest resources on behalf of others, always remembering that you are still a servant to them. And if by chance you are the owner, you also are a steward — to your family, your offspring, and even to your employees and customers. They rely on you to make wise resource decisions that will benefit them as well as you.

The Realist Hat. Max DePree said it well in Leadership Is An Art: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Leaders continuously remind others of the truth of what is: what our customers need from us, who our competitors are, what our resources are, what our purpose/mission is, what we need to accomplish this month, etc. But the realist hat also is critical in order to ensure that strategic objectives actually are accomplished. In their classic book on leadership, this is what Bennis and Nanus call “the basic energy to initiate and sustain action, translating intention into reality”.

So, are you ready to rewrite your job description around the six hats of leadership? Feel free to add some hats of your own.

Kent Wilson (PhD) is a business practitioner and leadership specialist. He now serves as an executive coach with Vistage International and the Nonprofit Leadership Exchange. kent.wilson@vistage.com.