What is the role of a leader?

As i was preparing for next week’s broadcast of our radio program, Business Matters, I was talking with Peter Block. Peter is someone who I have admired for many years. His early book “Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self Interest” was an early writing that brought to my attention that the role of the leader was not to direct people but to support them in their ability to contribute.

Peter and I were talking about the leadership characteristics that are most important in a new President. Peter remarked that the notion of leadership was a problem. He feels that we still have a collective belief that leadership is something separate from ourselves. We project the responsibility for how things work out for us in many, if not all, aspects of our lives onto someone else. We often do this to someone who we believe is in power – often people with political or financial position. Peter contends that they only true role of a leader during this time is to facilitate.

We talked about what this would look like. Peter said that the useful leader would be part of a community, whatever its configuration (family, town, business, school,,,) and use their skills and gifts to help the community find its purpose and supporting its members in feeling accountable for the community living in that purpose.

As I see the disarray and distress in most organizations, what Peter said had a ring of truth for me. For too long, I and others have been advocating a leader as someone that was a role that determined who we are and what we do. This approach distances the community members from both accepting accountability for the community and for themselves. Through this acceptance of my own responsibility for everything, I reinvent my world.

Peter gave a simple example of a group he is working with. A local school district asked for his help. As he was talking with parents, he realized that they had completely delegated the accountability for the education of their children to the school district. He said to the parents and school district leadership, “This is too important a role to be delegated to anyone else. The parents must bear the primary responsibility for their children’s education.”

There are many examples where we have released our accountability to someone else. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reclaim our role as creators or our world?

Until later,


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Author: Thomas White

Over the past thirty-five years, Thomas White has created and led private and public organizations that initiated breakthroughs in areas as diverse as computer software, publishing, printing, market research, leadership development and organizational change. The common ingredients in his success are simple. He looked beyond the limitations that others believed and found real solutions to needs that business leaders have. He attracted the best talent to translate these innovative solutions into practical products and services that were of high value to customers. He created cultures where people love what they do, work at their best and produce extraordinary results. In addition to his role as a business leader, Thomas has been a pioneer and inventor of technologies in the computer-networking field. He is a patent holder for innovations in business process and workflow technology. As part of his passion for educating others about the interface of human and computer systems, he was the co-author of “New Tools for New Times, The Workflow Paradigm”. He has also written articles for numerous publications. In 2001, he turned his attention from leading companies to supporting leadership teams in creating organizations of excellence. After many years of being a part of the machine of change, Thomas recognized that business is the most powerful force in the world. It has a major impact on public policy and governments everywhere. It is a key influence on how we use our resources and sets an example of the values that shape communities from local to global. He formed the consulting firm of Profoundly Simple to be a guide for exemplary leaders - leaders who wisely uses the power they are entrusted with to serve their constituencies first and themselves second; leaders who know that it is good business to treat people with respect, honor the environment and act with impeccable integrity – leaders who inspire greatness in those around them and by doing so create great organizations that are notable examples of success. Feeling the itch to get back into the game again, Thomas joined with two long time friends, to start the C-Suite Network. This network of business leaders offers an online network, events, services, and insights to its 500,000 member community. In addition, the C-Suite Network produces and distributes television and radio content to an audience of over 5M per month

1 thought on “What is the role of a leader?”

  1. I started as the president of my District’s parent group this year – and am learning much about what kind of leader I want to be.

    Much of my journey has been about learning to let go of the traditional role of “leader” that you talk about – where I would be telling people what to do or how to be.

    Instead, with the guidance of many wonderful leaders such as yourself and Pete Reilly, I’m learning to be the one to ask the probing questions, to focus everyone on thinking about what’s important to them – and then aligning their everyday actions with that big picture!

    Here’s how I started off my year: http://www.iwasthinking.ca/2008/09/19/what-i-want-for-my-children

    Thank you for your insightful writing and inspiration!

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