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December 7, 2012 / glennlim thots

LEADERSHIP – 3 Key Organisation Roles of Leaders


I learnt some fresh lessons from a recent Leadership Course I attended. The greatest takeaway is documented below:

A real leader’s main responsibility is not in CONTENT (the ground work, operations). Even when he does ‘operations’, it is purposeful. He does it to lead by example, motivate his people, or get down and feel the ground…But a more important responsibility a leader has is to think and do things strategically. His main responsibility is to build and sustain the CONTEXT (framework, systems, structure by which to contain the Content). See diagram below that illustrates this concept:


Eg) Most teachers’ job descriptions focuses mainly on Content (delivering lessons, course material, curriculum). But the student’s receptivity to accept information is probably more important, like the student’s attitudes in self-directed learning and self-motivation. These aspects have nothing to do with the original purpose of teaching (content), and yet it holds great implications to learning outcomes…That’s why a teacher’s first task is not teaching; his first task is to ensure that a conducive environment (Context) is set up to promote learning.

In this regard, there are 3 key organisational roles that all leaders must fulfill:

1) Set the Context

A leader’s first task is to establish the Context by which all content is to be operationalised. He looks into the future of the org and asks: How big a context can this org look like? He then leads to lay out the big picture; craft the vision, mission, values along with his team; identify goals; strategises and plans; sets up the operational structures and systems according to this blue-print; and assigns the roles, functions etc to his team. The Context becomes a map by which he navigates his team towards outcomes…

2) Maintain the Context

After the first, a leader’s second role is to make sure this Context is adhered to. This means consistently revisiting and re-examining it with his team. He nurtures it, encourages and supports the culture. Are there instances where the org direction is off-track? where values are compromised? where the team is just going through the motions of ‘doing’ at the expense of losing sight of vision? This is where the leader must step in to address and confront. When external influences threatens the system, he needs to protect the context, the people and the culture. Otherwise, content will spill and leak. Leaders are custodians of the context.

3) Grow the Context

Leaders need to constantly find ways to develop and grow his Context. Otherwise the org will slink into a maintenance-orientated posture, where work becomes routine and uninspiring. In this instance, leadership priority is to create high ownership among team-members. It is no longer agreement that he is eliciting, but resonance toward a cause, vision and direction. He encourages ppl to step up and participate in outcomes. As a leader, ask: what programs/events can I use to recruit more like-minded individuals to grow the culture, and enlarge the capacity of current context.

Eg) I was asked to give an analysis to a local community services agency. The org already had good staff, executives who could run programs, events etc. Operationally, they could perform and had consistent output from their fixed programs. But there was clearly no leader who could strategically lead the team towards future goals. My advise to the org was, if this goes on, very soon ppl will leave. A senior head retorted that they had been working like this for the last 2 years without problems. Sure enough, the following 6 mths saw 2 of their staff tendering resignations. Soon after, another 2 gave notices…there was no clear direction or vision to work towards for them. It was ‘business-as-usual’ every day of their working schedule. So naturally they became jaded and disoriented, and left. This is what I call as ‘content’ leaking from a broken cup…

Remember, leaders are to think strategically about their ‘context’, establish it, and move it to the next level so that the rest of the team can then focus on ‘content’.

Cheers!…Glenn Lim


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