The purpose of this article is to describe the areas in which leadership contribute value. As such, it addresses the position of leadership. It does not refer to individual leaders. The reason for this is simple: individual leaders are unique; groups of people they lead are unique and situations are unique but the areas in which leaders add value are common. As a result, no individual leader adds value in every area all the time; some leaders never add value in one or more of the areas. But the profession of leadership exists to add value in six key areas.

Today we see a trend to criticize any and every action a leader takes. Scrutiny and criticism occurs around every action a leader takes. This is akin to being pecked to death by a duck. No leader’s reputation can survive this continual scrutiny since every individual sees the leader’s actions through a slightly different lens. As a result, someone will criticize every action a leader takes. If professionals were subjected to this same level of scrutiny, their leader would be lambasted for micro-managing and being hypercritical.

In order to consider the true value of a leader, we need to consider and assess the areas in which leadership add value.

In order to properly assess leadership one must start with the reason for its existence. Many thought leaders view leadership through the wrong lens. They evaluate leaders against what they do; they focus on tasks and activities. Leadership is assessed by behavior. So these thought leaders propose textbook leadership behaviors, but then they find their optimal behaviors are not what what skilled and successful leaders do. The reason for this discrepancy is that practicing leaders focus on producing value: how that value is delivered is secondary in their minds. Leadership exists to add value in one or more of six key value areas and it is around these areas that true assessment occurs.

What Value Do Leaders Create?

Value is defined as worth or importance. In terms of leadership it is much more. It is creating a catalytic conversion between individuals and results that creates growth and change in both individuals and organizations. This is only done through the catalyst of leadership.

There are six major areas where leaders provide value to their followers and to their organizations.


Three of those areas are forward focused. That means the leader creates value by articulating and making progress toward what is possible: a future state not yet achieved. Forward focused value results in improvement, innovation, progress and movement as well as anticipation and excitement.
Three of the areas focus on maintaining the core. The leader adds value by ensuring the core of success remains solid and is protected so that there is stability amidst the progress. This provides reassurance in time of confusion and it allows people to put their efforts toward the value they are creating rather than trying to figure out how to create it.

As each of the value areas interacts with other areas, it creates a synergistic value that is stronger then any one individual part (thus the arrows on the web indicating interaction between the parts).

As with any model not all leaders focus equally (or at all) on all six areas). Focus comes from the needs of their followers, needs of the organization or simply the capabilities of the leader. The emphasis an individual leader places on any or all of the six areas form the unique leadership contribution.

A. Forward Focused Value
By definition, leaders “lead” to a point different than where they currently are. As a result, they create change, movement and growth. This results in growth or enhancement of the organization, in increased productivity and results, in enhanced customer relationships and in individual employee capability growth. The three forward focused value areas direct and focus movement toward a desired end.

Value Area #1: Focusing others on possibilities

Leadership is concerned with potential and possibilities. It looks for and desires a better state. Leadership thinks about what individuals and organizations can become. Without this forward view, the focus is on the current, the present and the status quo. The current is the domain of the manager; leadership lives in the realm of what is possible. – “What do we do today that will position us to achieve what is possible in the future?” Leaders do not have to come up with all the details of how to reach the vision. This is where engagement of others builds ownership and commitment (value area 2). Instead they focus on what the end state is.

This leadership value is not just in the possessing of a vision of what can be but also in so communicating that vision so that others understand and embrace it. Thus leadership focuses on communicating (preaching) its view of possibilities. Depending on the organization level of the leader, this may occur at one or more of three levels: individual, group or the entire population. Unfortunately some leaders are unable to provide value at each of those three levels and therefore their effectiveness at higher levels is minimized.


Practices: How do leaders add value by focusing others on what is possible? They do it in multiple different ways.
• Articulate the vision
• Define what success looks like
• Discuss with a person their potential
• Create innovation about what products or services could do to meet customer needs

Deliverable: The creation of a shared vision of a state that is better than the current while building the confidence that the leader knows how to get there.

Pitfall: The three major pitfalls leaders encounter are:
• First they fail for a lack of execution or progress. Eventually followers tire of discussing possibilities if no progress is made toward the specified end. Therefore this value area can exist alone for a limited period of time before a leader fails to earn trust they can reach the articulated state.
• Second, leaders fail when they do not engage others in sharing the vision.
• Third, they fail if the vision or direction does not take into account or provide for follower’s personal gain or growth.

Value Area #2: Providing Opportunities to Contribute

There is much talk today about the engaged employee. The bottom line is that engagement is not a spontaneous combustion event; it always begins with an invitation or opportunity. Many people do not engage simply because they are never provided the opportunity. A select few are invited but no one else.

It is not enough to provide an opportunity for a person to participate. Without the skills and capabilities to succeed, a person will fail. Therefore the leader also adds value by developing capabilities to meaningfully participate.

Practices: A leader creates invitations and opportunities for individuals to participate in multiple ways:

• Invitation to serve on teams and projects
• Delegation of special assignments
• Engagement through soliciting improvement ideas
• Collaboration with others around key decisions
• Capability development in areas needed to excel above (decision making, data analysis, innovation, etc.)

Deliverable: Inclusion of all staff in meaningful assignments and the development of capabilities for staff to excel.

Pitfall: The three major pitfalls leaders encounter are:
• Believing engagement is something the employee should initiate instead of the manner
• Selective participation of some staff at the exclusion of others. This “favoritism” undermines the leader’s credibility and trust.
• Include people but do not build the employee’s collaborative skills required for success.

Value Area #3. Protect Organizational and Individual Integrity:

Leaders and the organizations they lead (and even specific individuals inside those organizations) will eventually come under attack. These attacks may come from external organizations or even from within their own organization. When that happens, one role is needed that only the leader can play; no one else can do it. That role is to defend the integrity of the direction and actions of the organization and staff. If leaders do not fulfill this role, staff quickly loses heart and effort, and morale and enthusiasm will cease.

Practices: This value area requires wisdom and discernment that require thinking and asking good questions. First, the leader must be willing and able and to diagnosis the attack. Does the attack have any validity or merit or is it unwarranted? Second, the leader must be able to withstand changing direction simply to mollify another group. Third, the leader must be willing to stand up and defend the organization when there is no validity to the attack. This is an important aspect of leadership in the environment we live in: an environment where only values or actions endorsed by others is acceptable. This requires the leader, at times, to be willing to stand-alone.

But what if, after diagnosing the attack, the attack has merit and the actions were wrong? The leader works with staff to determine what action must take to rectify the situation. The leader puts that remedial action into place. The leader will assume responsibility for everything his or her organization did. (The one thing they will not do is to sacrifice an individual staff member publically. They will correct the thinking of that individual privately but never in public).

Deliverable: Defend the values, direction and progress of he organization and staff so that individual performers feel free to act according to the organization’s values.

Pitfall: The three major pitfalls leaders encounter are:
• First a leader can fail to defend the organization when it is right.
• Second a leader can fail to assume responsibility for actions of his or her organization.
• Third, the leader can water down direction or values to mollify others.

B. Internal Focused Value

The leader also adds value by maintaining the core. Many organizations today are somewhat successful because of the heroic effort of employees, not because leadership has built the core of a great organization. These three value areas deal with leadership’s ability to build the runway to achieve the high quality direction and results the organization desires. If these three value areas are neglected, staff may be motivated about the mission and direction but frustrated about how hard it is to be successful. Many not for profits experience this issue because leadership relies on the mission to motivate but leaders focus more on fundraising than building a great organization so that staff can be successful.

Value Area # 4: Make It Easy To Perform

Gardeners till the soil so the seed can grow. Leaders provide the necessary structure, processes, and systems so that staff can focus on producing technical value. Where leadership fails to provide a sound infrastructure, it is left to staff to try and figure how out to get things done. Then results occur because of the heroic efforts of individuals, not because of great leadership. (This is one area in which leadership and management must work hand in glove to create a great organization).

• Clearly define what success looks like in projects and assignments
• Clarify priority so high value and importance is clearly defined
• Minimize complexity so people have time to spend on high value
• Build strong core processes so staff do not have to figure out how to get things done but can concentrate on the value of their deliverables

Deliverable: Minimize effort and focus on how to get things done and maximize focus and time on high value

Pitfalls: The three major pitfalls leaders encounter are:
• Focus so much on the mission and what can be so there is minimal or no focus on what people have to go through to achieve the value they produce
• Allow each person to independently define what success looks like so the definition of success becomes very confused
• Over standardize every process so the organization becomes bureaupathological.

Value Area #5: Fighting Complacency
People, teams and even leaders get tired. Tiredness can lead to laziness. Staff begins to make recommendations that are adequate but not great. Sometimes teams struggle because they cannot find a solution to a difficult problem and a tendency builds to “just do something”. The leader has a problem when staff begins to believe that good enough is good enough. The leader is tested when staff begins to believe that good enough is superior. Complacency is a subtle but extremely powerful threat to progress and movement.

• Clearly defining what success looks like at multiple levels and being slow to accept anything less than reaching success
• Re-clarifying and re-focusing the issue when individuals and teams are stuck
• Bringing in outside sources to revitalize and challenge the status quo
• Providing rest when people are tired
• Not accepting average or mediocre work in the name of expediency.
• Providing encouragement
• Providing additional help (including personally stepping in where needed)
• Not rewarding average as superior

Deliverable: Maintain focus on high value efforts and high quality decision and actions

Pitfalls: The three major pitfalls leaders encounter are:
• Accept less than desired when possible is achievable
• Being unclear about what success looks like
• Confuse tiredness and complacency but treat them the same

Value Area # 6: Provide A Model

The last, but definitely not least, area in which leaders adds value is to model the principles, behavior and direction they espouse. Leaders hold many different values and are many different practices they hold to be critical in order to be successful. Followers may choose to follow leaders because of their character and principles they hold but they remain with leaders because of the consistency with which leaders demonstrate those values.

Being a model produces two major contributions. First it creates a living example that teaches what it means to practice those values or principles. This is especially important in times of confusion and ambiguity. Second being a model provides a foundation of consistency that allows followers to anticipate what will happen. This builds a confidence in knowing what to expect, what will be rewarded and what will not be tolerated. Without this consistency, the organization remains in a state of unnecessary flux and stress. Both of these areas are absolutely essential contributions of the leader.

• Uses situations to teach how vales and beliefs are to be applied
• Teach through example
• Communication transparency: explaining the rationale behind decisions
• Using Values and beliefs to lead the decision making process
• Mentor and coaching others through decisions
• Willingness to apologize and accept responsibility when inconsistencies occur
• Demonstrating support for employees when they practice stated beliefs, principles or practices.

Deliverable: Provide consistent living examples that others can copy of what the leader believes are essential principles and practices to be successful.

Pitfalls: The three major pitfalls leaders encounter are:
• Perhaps the biggest pitfall in this area occurs when leaders have certain practices that are only reserved for them. If followers emulate these behaviors they are punished or ostracized and become resentful.
• As second pitfall occurs when a leader says all the right things but has no idea (or willingness) how to practice them. Very quickly followers discover the hypocrisy and lose confidence.
• The last, and possibly most common and dangerous pitfall, is when the leader allows expediency to alter the application of what the leader articulates. (This often occurs for leaders who cannot stand conflict. He or she is willing to compromise when a conflict hits their desk. Staff who have done the right thing find they are left out to dry by leaders who quickly give into the pressure the employee has rightfully withstood.

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