The Number One Job of Leadership: How Leaders Contribute to Business Success

The Number One Job of Leadership: How Leaders Contribute to Business Success

Much is expected of leaders today. Their flaws are so apparent because our demands are so diverse and hard to meet. We criticize them for their failings while overlooking the many things they do that aren’t as visible as their errors.

It’s easy to forget the enormous pressure on them to deliver and the little time they have to produce. 

With so much to do, how is it possible for there to be any number one job for leaders? Not only is business success increasingly elusive, ephemeral and complex, there are so many more stakeholders with different agendas to satisfy, from government regulators and customer groups to environmentalists. Just look at the recent issues Facebook has had for an example of this.

Surely the truth is that today’s leaders need to be able to switch gears umpteen times a day and juggle a thousand balls at once in order to have any hope of satisfying  such a diverse and large group of stakeholders. This is true, but all the more reason to make the  effort to remember what is the number one job so that it doesn’t get lost in the fray. 

The Ultimate Driver of Success in Business 

To identify the number one job, we must first determine the most important criterion for success in business. Here is a partial list of candidates: 

  1. A great place to work with good talent management and retention.
  2. Well developed, highly skilled managers.
  3. Effective innovation and product development processes.
  4. Visionary leadership.
  5. The financial acumen to make a profit.
  6. Ethical work practices.
  7. Products/services that people want and will pay for.
  8. Great marketing and sales.
  9. Efficient, cost effective and timely execution.
  10. Skilled, up to date workforce.

All of these factors surely contribute to business success, but the seventh one, having products or services that people want and will pay for must be number one. (Saying that people will pay for such products assumes, of course, that they are better or cheaper than alternatives.) 

You could have an abundance of all the other nine factors but they are all inputs. If there is no desirable product then there is no business. This means that the number one job of leaders is to make sure that new products are always coming on stream. If leadership is defined as promoting new directions, then all employees can champion new products and, thereby, show leadership to the organization. Senior executives who facilitate such bottom-up leadership are wearing a managerial hat when they do so. They show such leadership themselves when they also promote new markets or products. 

Regardless of how you define leadership, and regardless of the myriad voices screaming for the leader’s attention, it is imperative to remember the number one success driver. And that is product vision and execution!

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