The Real Roles Of A Leader

leader at conference table

by Duncan Brodie

Browse the internet, go into a bookstore and pick up a book or ask people – and you will find many different points of view on what the role of a leader is.

For me the role of the leader is to move the organisation forward and create sustained success.

So what does that mean in very practical terms?


Getting a very clear idea of where the organisation is right now: That means getting out into the organisation, connecting with people and really getting a very clear picture of the areas of strengths and the areas needing attention.

It will involve asking lots of questions, listening a lot and suspending judgements or pre-conceived ideas that you might have. It will also of course involve looking at performance reports, getting views from users of services, customers, industry influencers.

Getting clear about where you are heading or at least the overall direction of travel:

Part of the challenge here is being able to anticipate the changes that may or may not be coming along or may be needed.

The chances are that there are going to be areas where you are going to see decline and that may not be worth being part of the longer term, other areas that are maturing and others that are emerging, so in reality you are probably going to need to segment the organisation into different groupings.

Winning hearts and minds or put more simply to get people on board with what you want to achieve:

This is probably one of the most difficult roles you have as a leader. People have a huge tendency to want to stay right where they are and even hold on to things that they don’t like. You know the saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. It’s a good way of thinking about how people respond to change.

If you are ever going to have any chance of getting the support you need, you need to win support from what I refer to as a critical mass.

There is always going to be a small cohort who will follow everything you propose and a small proportion who will object to everything. Your challenge is to pay attention to the 80-90% to get your critical mass, not just the 10-20% at the edges.

Holding people to account is another important aspect:

For some this brings up the image of being some sort of ogre so let me explain what I mean. Every leader needs to make expectations of what they want another person to deliver. Usually these are defined in terms key results areas or objectives.

The leader will also want to follow up on progress. When they do this they ask the other person to account for what they have achieved and the progress they are making.

Now there will be times when, despite the best endeavours of someone, they have not managed to make it. At these times the leader may well have to help them to get to the next stage or to get moving again.

On the other hand, there may be times when there is a need for a difficult conversation and sometimes even moving on people when, despite best intentions, it is not working.

Empowering people to deliver: Now the word ’empowerment’ is banded around a lot and sometimes it is used out of context.

About the author

You empower people who are already highly competent. In other words, you let them know the end outcome and leave it to them to figure out how to achieve that end outcome.

Yes, you have feedback and accountability but when you empower you are very much taking a hands-off approach.

The Reality: The leader plays many different roles and some of these roles are more important than others in my experience.

To become an even better leader I invite you to sign up for my free audio e-course Leadership Success at