The Most Challenging Role of Being a Leader

I often am asked what is the most difficult role of the leader?  While there are many difficult roles, my experience and that of those with whom I’ve talked would say the most difficult and time-consuming task is getting the right leadership team in place.

Adaptation Is a Must

Organizations like human beings need to renew themselves over time to adapt to changing circumstances.  The Army War College refers to our world as a V.U.C.A. world—Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.  If we don’t adapt, if we don’t help our organizations to adapt, they become Peter Senge’s “boiled frogs.” A major part of that adaptation is getting the right organization and leadership in place.

Streamline Leadership Roles

When I became CEO at The Procter & Gamble Company, we had arguably a top-heavy organization.  We had multiple Vice Chairs that separated me from the operating division Presidents.  I put in place a plan to streamline the leadership, reduce levels, and reduce layers; but it took too long to do it.  The CEO must stay close to their customers and fewer levels helps.

Place People In Jobs That They Love

Similarly, when I got to the Department of Veterans Affairs, I had a leadership team which was under-performing.  Over the next two and a half years I changed the positions of 14 of the top 17 leaders.  I put people in jobs they loved, and they were good at them.  If you have ever encounter someone at work who is unhappy, perhaps it is because they are in the wrong job.  All human beings like to do things that they are good at.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I fired all 14 leaders who were replaced.  In fact, in most cases I found them a job they liked, and they thrived in.  As an example, imagine if you hated calculus, and were placed in a job that required you to perform calculus all day.  Teams perform exceptionally well when the players are in the right jobs.

Be The Chief Inspiration Officer

How do you tell if someone is in the right job?  How is their performance, their attitude, and their morale?  Do they have a competency for their job?  If you have any question, ask them.  As a leader there is no more important task.

The leader is the primary recruiter of the organization.  As CEO of P&G I traveled extensively, and I always tried to get to universities to recruit new personnel.  As the leader you are the Chief Inspiration Officer and Chief Recruiting Officer and it is up to you to close the sale with those who would be a good fit for your organization.  At VA I was shadowed by Scott Pelley for a 60 Minutes segment, where he accompanied me to Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital to recruit doctors and nurses for the VA.

While a leader may need functional help from HR for recruiting follow-up and processes, it is really up to the leader to recruit.  That’s how you fill your leadership team and your organization.

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