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Five Roles of the Business Leader

“After the game, the King and the Pawn go into the same box.”

Italian proverb

There are five roles of a Business Leader:

Teacher, Mentor, Evaluator, Coach, and Role Model.


The teacher develops plans and training modules to improve every person and process in her area of responsibility. Every opportunity to teach, or train, must be taken.

At some point in our career we are fortunate to have a natural teacher guiding us. Most of the time that doesn’t happen. Count yourself lucky to have a deliberate teacher.

Working in a stressful environment, a particular manager was criticized for not ‘training’ his people effectively. He was floored. The manager thought he was training constantly. But his people did not, so he had an idea…

The manager printed boldly on bright orange paper the words:

“You Are Being Trained.”

He carried it with him to meetings large and small. He began every meeting, formal and informal, with this placard. He made everyone read it aloud. After a few days, everyone got the message, and got a good laugh out of it. The point was made.

Every time the business leader talks he is training his people. The sooner you act that way, the sooner it will be taken that way.


Mentoring done right is inconstant. Your mentor should not be your boss, but another party of experience in your field, or who has walked a mile in your shoes.

The key is being non-judgmental, but direct and honest. It’s a thin line. If the chemistry is not mutual, it can be a waste of time. Caution here: too much chemistry smacks of fraternization and should be avoided like the plague. Mentorship is open, but not a public discourse. Assigning mentors for the sake of it will not give anyone the long term results you seek and may be viewed with cynicism.

The best mentor/protégé relationships have mutual respect, are encouraging, and endure. These are rare, and it is this rarity that gives it high value.


Keep in mind your company’s human resource policies for consistent administration, which will control your preparation, format, and execution for evaluating employees. This is necessary and meant to protect both the employee and the evaluator. Resist the temptation to stray too far away from the proscribed practice.

This does not mean you cannot be creative by setting benchmark evaluations. Take every opportunity to make an employee “win” with positive recognition. Be judicious in employee “lose" and avoid tagging the small failures to the evaluation process that may linger far into the future. Unless there is a pattern of conduct that screams “fix this,” do not throw failures into daily communications.


You. Are. Not. Vince. Lombardi.

This. Ain’t. Little. League.

The above is not a contradiction. All players must check their egos at the door. That includes you.

Real-life athletic coaches do not have to be great players, which slightly contradicts the whole purpose of effective business leadership. As long as you keep the coaching piece in perspective, as a complement to the other business leadership roles, you cannot get into too much trouble.

What makes the “coach” an effective business leader is the analogy. The coach has to play with the team she is given, and must get the most out of every player, even the weak ones. Having spent some time in right field being chased by bees I can state that if a player is in over his head, the best coach in the universe can only try to limit the damage. The unskilled, the unmotivated, and the recalcitrant player can bring only so much to the game, especially if the coach has to play that person at least two innings.

Role Model

Arguably this is the most important aspect of being a business leader. Employees will not follow someone who lives by the credo, “Do as I say, not as I do.” The power of your example will set the tone not just for your team, but other business units who work with or compete for your business.

You are always being evaluated by your superiors, peers, and subordinates for your presence, prescience, and propriety.

Your presence is important, as you have to be there early, stay late, and pitch in when things get tight.

Your prescience is crucial, because your people expect you to predict the consequences for things that happen or might happen.

Your propriety is vital because your people need to trust your actions and your good judgment in all things.

SAFETY TIP: Recognition & Rewards

As corny as recognition can be, we all crave it. The form and sincerity are the central issues in practice. The introvert in the group does not express a desire for public notice, and the extrovert might be put off by “nice work,” but there is a vast ocean of positive consequences for a job well done.

Sincerity is first, appropriateness is second, and consistency is third.

No one really appreciates an ostentatious display, and what is done for your favorite must be done for the office grouch. Think it through.

Contrary to movie-make-believe, no one likes surprises at work. The day you want to surprise the office “go-to” person with some well-deserved recognition for going above and beyond is the day he cut himself shaving, or she didn’t wash her hair. Keep it real to the group, but stage-manage the event, whether large or small. Rehearse.

If the team has some size to it (ten or more) set up an expectation of all recognition, so no one’s feelings are injured. You can also keep a lid on party planner competition which can go over the top once cliques (and you got ‘em) take control for a favored crew member. If you go with “First Tuesday” of the month for an omnibus meeting, you can cover everything from birthdays to work milestones to “best of the best” awards. You emcee the event; keep it on plan, and then everyone gets back to work.

For much larger groups, especially if there’s a competition for “Best of the Month,” do formalize the process, delegate the criteria to a committee, and keep an eye on the how and why. If the boss doesn’t get involved, no one will see the value, and your recognition program may die a slow and embarrassing death.

Be sincere, appropriate, and consistent.

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