The Focus of Leadership

In November of 2019, I spoke to a gathering of business leaders on the topic of The Four Essentials of Business. This is the fourth blog post that I’ve generated from that talk. In this post, I’ll address the Essential of Leadership.  If you’d like to read the posts on the other Essentials, they are Brand Identity, a Healthy Culture, and a satisfied and growing Market.  

In the Four Essentials of Business Model, Leadership is the hub that keeps the other three Essentials together. We discussed in earlier posts that to be effective, an organization has to have a distinct Brand Identity; a healthy Culture; and a satisfied and growing Market. Leadership’s job in this model is to make those three their priority.  

First, leadership needs to set and steward the Brand Identity. We all have had experience with that organization that talks about their mission, vision and values, yet lives and acts completely contrary to them. Doing this creates staggering levels of inconsistency, both internally and externally. The best run organizations are led by people who visibly live according to the stated company values. 

Secondly, leadership is responsible for building the Culture. This can’t be done in a command-and-control way. The best cultures are built by leaders who seek to “shepherd” their people. This starts by serving and being intentional about developing the team. The altruistic focus should be the benefit and well being of the team. This servant style leadership works every time it’s tried. 

Lastly, leadership needs to serve and love its Market. I know it’s kind of weird to use the term “love” in a business context, but at the end of the day, that’s what we should be doing with our customers. We start this by seeking to understand their needs. One of the greatest gifts I got from working with my father was understanding that when it comes to marketing and sales, you start with the buyer and work backwards from there. What do they need? How can we serve them? How can we give to them? This is the leadership mission with regard to the Market.

So, how does all this work?  Well, if Leadership can steward the Brand Identity, shepherd the Culture and serve the Market, here’s what starts to happen…

In living out the Brand Identity, Leadership creates a “vocabulary” that communicates the expected values to the Culture. The Culture hears what’s being said, sees what’s being lived out, and begins imitating it, both internally and externally. The external result is the creation of  “vehicles” for serving the Market, vehicles which align with the Brand Identity. In essence, the  healthy Culture will satisfy and grow the Market. Over time, the Market will give us a measuring rod to let us know to what degree we are living the Brand Identity. They will be providing an organic “valuation” process. After all, no one’s going to tell you how you’re doing more than your customers will. 

And so the cycle continues. As we get feedback from the Market, we ask how to better live into our Brand Identity, which will then continue to influence the Culture and so it goes. 

So now the question is, how are you doing as a leader with regard to these Essentials? If you have the courage to find out, here’s a simple 360 degree feedback tool that you can share with your team, your vendors and your customers. To get the highest level of truth, let them take this anonymously. 

According to Harvard Business Review, “The soul of a growing company is built on clear business intent, a strong connection to customers and a stellar employee experience. Leaders must think hard about preserving all three elements and never lose sight of what makes their company special.” Well said. Sounds like the the folks at HBR know a little something about the Four Essentials of Business.