The Job of a Leader

I was very fortunate to work for an excellent leader and mentor named Bob Baker. Bob knew what it took to be a good leader; he demonstrated it in his actions and taught it to those around him. He had a simple definition of the job of a leader.

A leader’s job is to find capable, intelligent people, introduce them to interesting problems, supply them with the resources they need and get out of their way. ~ Bob Baker

Trust Equation

He taught me that a leader needs to be able to build trust with good people, cast a compelling vision, and align the resources needed to accomplish those goals.

1. Build Trust

In order to be a leader you have to have people who follow you. An essential first step to gaining followers is to build trust.

David Maister and Charles Green developed a “formula” for how trust is developed. It has 4 factors:

  • Credibility: Do you know what you are doing? Do you have a track record of success?
  • Reliability: Do you do what you say you will do? When you make a promise, do you keep it?
  • Intimacy: We don’t trust people who don’t know us; we trust people we feel safe with—people whose values we know to be similar to ours.
  • Self-Interest: If a leader demonstrates credibility, reliability, and knows us well, but is doing all that for personal gain; it undermines our ability to trust them. We want (and need) leaders who put the group ahead of themselves.

To attract the best people—those people who are really going to move the ball forward for your business—you need to be able to build trust with those people. How are you doing in each of these 4 areas?

2. Cast a compelling vision

Leaders are going somewhere. If you want people to follow, you need to have a good idea of where you are going, and you need to know why moving in that direction is going to lead someplace good. That means having a comprehensive view of your marketplace, your customers, and competitors; and understanding how your products and services are going to be better solutions for your ideal customer than those of your competitors. That’s a compelling vision.

You know you have found a compelling vision when it’s a complicated problem—when the answer isn’t straightforward. If your vision is to “sell more paper” (or whatever your business sells) it’s not very complicated (or compelling). It doesn’t fire me up! Some times leaders try to make it more compelling by simply making it bigger (“Sell more paper than anyone in the world!”). While that is a more interesting problem, I’m not sure it’s achievable. I’m still not fired up! Something needs to be different in the world (or at least our corner of it) to stoke my fire.

But even a compelling vision is no good if you can’t effectively communicate it to your team. The whole team needs to see that you have done your homework (credibility), that you have settled on this direction with forethought (i.e. it’s not going to be a “flavor of the month”), and that you are committed to seeing it through (reliability). The team needs to see that this vision isn’t just going to put money in your pocket, but that it’s going to create opportunities to learn, grow, and make money for everyone on the team (intimacy and selflessness). Telling your story of where you want to go in a way that builds your team’s trust in, and engagement with, that vision makes a striking difference in your team’s performance. And it’s a job that only you can do.

3. Align resources

If you have a vision, and a point of view about how the organization will achieve that vision, then you need to start thinking about what resources your team might need for the journey. Are there things we don’t know? Do we need information, or expertise? Where are we going to get it? How are we going to pay for it? One of the things that made Bob a great leader was that he was always thinking about resources before we needed them. He was already working on what we would need later (after we finish what we are working on now).

How is your industry or your customer changing? How will your business need to change to keep up? What people, experience, tools or other resources will your team need to meet that challenge?

One way that leaders free up resources is by saying “no”. When there’s not enough money to pay for R&D and Marketing, the leader has to say no to one or the other. When we one team member isn’t holding up their end of the deal, the leader has to find someone who will! Saying “no” helps you to maintain your focus, and applies resources where they are most needed.

As you set your sights on growing your business, stop for a minute and ask yourself:
How am I doing in each of these leadership roles? And take some time to think about and answer that question! Then ask:
How can I do a better job building trust, casting a vision, or aligning resources?

Brad Farris

As principal advisor of Anchor Advisors, Brad Farris has experience leading businesses & business owners into new levels of growth and success. Through his work with over 100 Chicago area small businesses he has experience in guiding founders and business owners through the pitfalls and joys of growing their business. Prior to joining Anchor Advisors, Brad spent over 10 years managing business units for a family-owned conglomerate with sales of $2 million to $25 million.  When he's not working, Brad enjoys cycling, cooking and the NFL. He is married with 5 children and lives in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with him on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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