What is a Leader

As a leader you must be many things to many people.

We have discussed in previous posts the need for a leader to be a visionary because involving people in realizing a compelling vision provides a beacon for the future and a standard of excellence. We have also talked about the leader’s role as a coach. A leader as a coach reinforces the results they believe people are capable of achieving as winning depends on execution.

In addition to the roles of visionary and coach there are two additional roles that round out an exceptional leader: The role of mentor and the role of director.

The Leader as a Mentor

While many aspects of the mentoring role are similar to coaching, the significant differences lie in the mentor’s advisory or teaching role. A mentor is a trusted advisor and tutor. Mentors share the benefit of their experience and knowledge. It is a critical role in developing individuals who will collectively be responsible for the success of the organization. As a mentor you should seek innovation, encourage experimentation, reward appropriate risk taking, drive out fear, and create an environment where everyone communicates freely, honestly, and positively.

Establish an environment that encourages and rewards people to develop their skills, improve their results, and learn new skills. Actively seek to help people learn from your experiences and knowledge. Develop a culture where people feel responsible for their own results and are supportive of others, as well as provide the model, knowledge, training, and freedom to achieve their goals. Today’s leaders must foster a culture where continuous learning and continuous improvement are the norm not the exception.

The Leader as a Director

In the director’s role, the leader is like a symphony orchestra conductor. Everyone knows their part, comes in on cue, and maintains the tempo that had been established. The conductor does not play the instruments, that is the role of the musicians. Each musician does not decide when to play, that is the role of the conductor. The role of the conductor is to elicit the best possible individual performance in concert with the entire orchestra to create a symphony of sound. The leader/director establishes the direction for the organization and for the people. This does not mean the leader is the authoritarian expert who knows all of the answers. Rather, it means the leader, as director, gathers the input and ideas from everyone in the organization, establishes goals, and aligns the resources to achieve those goals. The director creates conditions under which peak performers can thrive. The director continuously evaluates whether the direction serves both the organization’s best interest and the best interest of all individuals involved.

All leadership behavior must create an environment in which people are encouraged to seek out innovative ways of doing things which will ultimately lead to more revenues or lower costs. Excellent leaders use their complimentary skills as a visionary, a coach, a mentor, and a director to accomplish just that.

In the words of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he (she) wants to do it.”


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