Job Description for a Leader

by Nikos | June 22, 2008

Strategic Leadership

A Leader’s Real Job Description


Jack Welch has his “4E” framework for what makes for a great leader: positive energy, ability to energize others, edge to summon the courage to make tough decisions, and ability to execute. The Welch framework is just one of many in the leadership literature. Leadership gurus from Warren Bennis to Ram Charan have their own well-known and well-advanced formulas.

I humbly submit mine here. It may not be as catchy as some of the others, and I make no claims to originality. But it is informed by my experiences as an executive and as a consultant to dozens of global clients in assignments too numerous to mention. And it is the product of much reading, thinking, and agonizing over what it takes to be a great leader. Besides, as a consultant, I feel guilty when I don’t present a framework to help people. A consultant, after all, is not unlike an optician who prescribes a new pair of glasses—or framework—to improve your eyesight.

My modest prescription: Every leader should be mindful that the opportunity to effect meaningful change is limited by time. In other words, leaders should always have a time frame in mind. Leaders work against the clock and the calendar. The TIME framework below describes the four essential actions every leader should master. Most important, this framework allows a leader to simultaneously deal with the myriad cognitive, spiritual, emotional, and power plays of the world.

Think. Little is more important to leadership than the opportunity for deep reflection. Often, leaders are caught up doing triage at work, reacting to the daily grind of getting the job done, that they fail to set aside time for the proactive work. Thinking is the part of leadership that leads to innovating, discovering a purpose, creating a vision, and choosing a strategic position. It is the most essential part of the job, the part that focuses on the future.

Inspire. This is the most visible component of leadership. You’ve heard this before, but probably with an entirely different spin. Of course, the most effective leaders inspire. To use Welch’s word, they energize. But they also sell the vision, act as an example, tell stories, confront reality, ask the right questions, demonstrate possibilities, reassure, and give hope for a bright future. The leader’s job is to make people comfortable with what the company does so they can shape the task themselves in response to changing positions. Then, they can “do strategy with their fingertips,” to borrow Andy Grove’s phrase. Too many people, however, confuse inspiration with feelings. No wonder, because many leadership writers just happen to be real or imaginary psychologists. But inspiration at its core is a spiritual concept, not rooted in psychology. Inspiration is the spirit in you. A spirit is not a sentiment. It helps us redefine what is possible.

Mobilize. The leader’s third role is to mobilize people to perform a task. Every leader must be able to move a team to action, to build coalitions, define campaigns, set targets, and encourage networks. Unlike inspiring, which is typically directed at large numbers of people, mobilizing requires leaders to engage with and influence key players and their specific contributions. The skill to mobilize people is nearly equal to the skill to manage the politics and neutralize opponents. You have to clear the way for action to occur.

Empower. Leaders get most things done through others, so execution depends on managing authority correctly and delegating power generously. And part of this task involves allocating resources, scrutinizing and overseeing the deployment of those assets, and disempowering those who misuse them. People have to be equipped to perform their tasks. Assets have to be acquired and deployed. The overall organization has to be designed.

Thinking about what we do in all four dimensions is a passport to great leadership. But it’s also important to say clearly that leadership is ineffective or flawed largely when someone is unbalanced on some or all of these dimensions. The best leaders must operate on all four levels.


With Ivan de Suza and Gregor Vogelsang, vice-presidents at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Originally published in Business Week Online on December 26, 2007


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