Leaders of Organisations

The Purpose and Role of a Leader

A leader is someone who has signed a contract with an organisation to take up the role of being the leader. The purpose of this role is to generate a vision on continuous growth through value creation, realising these results through people and through the organisation. Through the vision, a leader can advance an organisation beyond the current reality. That is also the biggest challenge to any leader: daring to imagine and to enter the unknown.

The leadership role is, in essence, about bringing the growth vision to life through four main tasks. First, by providing direction by choosing strategies, objectives and targets. Second, by allocating the available resources accordingly. Third, by mobilizing people behind the direction. Last but not least, by generating results, and in getting there, resolving conflicts among people along the way.

The role of a leader emerges when an entrepreneur can no longer grow the value creation just by himself and needs additional support. More capital (shareholders), more hands/brains (employees) and more raw materials and assets (suppliers) are needed. And when being aboard, all of them need a leader to maintain a concerted momentum in the drive for growth.

The Distortions of Leadership Behaviour

Living their roles amongst wide circles of stakeholders makes leaders vulnerable to external and internal dynamics, which easily turn into distortions of their behaviour. In turn, when not acknowledged and countered, these behaviours have a profound negative impact on the functioning of the people, and as such, on the performance and results of the entire organisation.

The external dynamics, coming from the outside world, are numerous and endless. The terrible beauty is: they cannot be controlled. Terrible, because they are present any time, any place and are unexpected. Beautiful, because the ability to deal with those is part of the fun of leadership – the better the response to this ‘unexpected’, the more appreciated the leader.

The internal dynamics, those inside the leader as a human being, are equally numerous and endless. However, three of those internal dynamics repeatedly emerge in coaching leaders: the Confusion of Identity & Results, the Fear of Friction, the Downside of Stress.

Leadership Behaviour countering Results

The Confusion of Identity & Results – many leaders identify themselves with the results the organisation achieves. Reaching targets has the connotation: “I am successful”. Not reaching targets is received by an inner voice saying: “I failed”. Not being able to distinguish between themselves as a human being and their role as a leader, they want to avoid failure. The often applied instinctive reaction is increasing control, justified by ‘ensuring results will come’ but perceived by employees as ‘more bureaucracy’, countering creativity, hindering results.

The Fear of Friction – leaders are dependent on the friction between all stakeholders to achieve together the results. The human capability to deal constructively with friction is limited and, at best, fragile – as history informed us. Countering the potential downside of friction triggers leaders to increase levels of control, often perceived by employees as increasing bureaucracy, countering creativity, hindering results.

The Downside of Stress – leaders are by the nature of their role drawn to the crossroads of organisations. These are the places and the moments where choices have to be made, and are in need of someone saying: “yes or no, this and not that, this person, not that person, here and not there, more of X and less of Y, etc”. Making choices generates stress with everyone involved in the choice. All this stress is projected on the leader. On top of that stress, the leader generates stress inside him/herself. The physical reaction to stress is a narrowing down of the capabilities to single out and to focus on the one capability needed to get out of the situation causing the stress. Over time, the constant presence of stress makes the individual regard reduced capability as the normal state. Constant stress leads to the dumbing–down of leaders.