So What Do Leaders Actually Do?


Ask someone about leadership and they will usually describe characteristics of leadership.  Inspiring, trustworthy, visionary, are words that come to mind.  These are words that describe our experience with leadership.  We know it when we see it.  The problem is we rarely talk about how to do it.  What do great leaders actually do?

Are leaders born or made?

This gives leadership an aura of mystery.  It is easy to believe leaders are born.  You either have it or you don’t.  Leadership does come easier for some personality types, but we can all learn to be a better leader.  We do this by focusing on what leaders do and learning how to do it.

So what do leaders actually do?  Before we can address that, we need to answer an important question.  What is leadership?  I describe leadership as “Declaring a future that others commit to achieve”.  This definition is Bob Dunham’s.  Bob is an expert and thought leader in the field of leadership development.  The definition sounds simple, we need a vision and we need people to commit to it.  Some people rely on their positional power to tell others they must buy in to the vision and take action to achieve it.  This is the traditional command and control approach.

What do leaders do?

If you’ve tried this, may have found that it works for a while but doesn’t last.  You have to work harder and harder to get others to continue to follow the vision.  I believe there is a different way and it is what I see effective leaders do.  They:

  • Clarify their own cares and motivations
  • Understand and connect to the cares of others
  • Listen generously and generate listening in others
  • Declare a future by describing a compelling vision
  • Develop strategy, a plan to achieve the vision
  • Inspire and enroll others to create the envisioned future
  • Coordinate action across their followers to fulfill the vision

The first three points above are rarely described.  I find leaders are supposed to be visionary and already have a compelling vision.  I wish it was so easy, I wake up and there is my vision.  Creating a vision requires knowing ourselves and those around us.  It involves sensing what is important in the broader world.  The remaining points are probably more familiar but not simple.  I’ve written in previous posts about strategy and influencing, amongst other topics.

This list of activities starts to uncover what effective leaders actually do.  I don’t have space to go deeper in this post.  If you wish to explore what leaders do in more depth, I have written a seven page article outlining what leaders do.  You can get your copy by clicking the button below.  Once you’ve read it, please come back to this post and let’s have a conversation about it.  Did it resonate with you?  Is it helping you become the leader you aspire to be?