Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of work, it’s easy for leaders to stop feeling valuable. You might find yourself asking the question … “Why is leadership important?”
As leaders, we’re often not involved in actually doing the work. We coordinate it, review it, oversee it, support it and direct it. This needs to happen, but sometimes it feels as if we are simply dealing with problems all day, instead of adding value.
In some workplaces, it’s not uncommon to hear people say that there are “too many managers”. Or they might say that leaders are a “waste of space” or “don’t do anything”.
If you hear these sorts of comments too often when you’re a manager and leader, it can get you down.
So in this post, I’m going back to basics.
Let’s take a step back and answer the question “Why is leadership important?”, so we can focus on the valuable role that we play as leaders in the workplace.
1. Leadership is Important Because Leaders Set the Direction
A lot of work goes on in our organisations. If it isn’t coordinated in a sensible fashion, we are surrounded by chaos.
Leaders fulfil this vital role because they have a level of authority that lets them make the call on what work is important, and what can wait.
Leaders set the strategy and direction, so that the efforts of the organisation can be focused.
Most organisations specialise in the things they are really good at, rather than trying to do everything at once. This allows them to be competitive. The choice of what they are going to be good at is set by the leadership.
You might be a middle manager who doesn’t set your company strategy. However, you still have a vital role in making sure the work of your team aligns with where the organisation is trying to go.
And let’s not forget communication. Leaders also work across the organisation to ensure that work isn’t duplicated, and to make sure their colleagues are getting what they need from their teams.
2. Leaders Manage Conflict
Even though your organisation has a specific strategy and direction, there can be many layers to this. Achieving the strategy might need many different initiatives and teams, even when focused on the same overall goal.
Larger organisations often pursue multiple goals, working with multiple products and services in many different markets.
Therefore, there are still going to be competing priorities, even with a single strategy. That means conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Leaders are often best placed to resolve conflict because they have a level of authority that can mediate between the two competing parties.
But conflict isn’t just about competing priorities. Organisations are full of people… who are all different. Different personalities and motivations will also give rise to conflict.
Leaders need to be able to make the call about who is “right” and “wrong”, and to have the tough conversations that might be required to resolve any issues.
When conflict arises between people in the workplace, someone needs to be able to break the deadlock. Leaders are usually best-placed to do that.
3. Leadership is Important Because Leaders Provide Support
An often overlooked part of leadership is being available to support people. Sometimes it might feel like meeting with your team members is wasted time, because you’re not “doing” anything.
Meeting with your team members might feel a little pointless, especially if they are doing well, and experiencing no significant issues.
However, providing support and simply being available for team members is critical. Otherwise, team members feel like they are “going it alone”. Don’t underestimate the value of just being there for your team, even if it doesn’t feel productive.
Sometimes leaders tend to become overly busy, agreeing to attend meetings all day, with no time to spare. Many leaders are unavailable, inaccessible and difficult to contact.
When this is the norm, team members make their own decisions, try to solve their own problems or may lack confidence and sit idle instead. Either way, leaders run the risk of team issues when they fail to be available to support their teams.
When your team is doing well, give yourself a little bit of the credit for creating an environment where it was possible.
Learn More: 6 Great Ways to Support Your Team.
4. Leaders Develop Their People
Good leaders aren’t worried when their team members are ambitious, wanting to achieve great things. In fact, they want to help them get there.
The aspect I love most about leadership is developing people and helping them succeed. I love giving people challenging opportunities to grow, and supporting them to achieve their goals.
That’s because I know I won’t be in the same leadership role forever. I’ll move up or away, one day. So I need someone else to take my place and to keep things moving.
Leaders play a key role in identifying skill gaps, seeing opportunities for team members to improve, and then coaching or mentoring them to gain confidence and skills.
5. Leadership is Important Because Leaders Make Decisions
In the workplace, decisions need to be made.
These might be decisions like:
- Choosing the top priority
- Selecting the best way to do something
- Deciding when to do something
- Deciding where to spend the organisation’s money.
Good leaders go through a process to make decisions, including gathering feedback and assessing the potential options.
Then, they use the information they have and their previous experience, to make the call.
Again, leaders are best placed to make decisions, because they have a level of authority and take on the responsibility to deal with the possible outcomes.
Decisions also need to be made at the right level in an organisation, otherwise people will feel like they can question them constantly.
Sometimes, decisions are difficult and there are many potential options that may seem suitable. Leaders take on the responsibility of shouldering the burden of potentially making the wrong call, even with good intentions.
Learn More: How to Make Good Decisions in 4 Easy Steps.
6. Leaders Set the Culture
When asking the question “Why is leadership important?”, one of the most important answers comes back to culture.
Culture is super important. Basically, the culture represents “the way we do things around here”.
Everyone participates in building the culture of a team or organisation. An organisation’s culture is an intangible thing. You can’t touch it, buy a new one or just build one in a few weeks.
Culture builds gradually over time, and the leaders in an organisation role-model the behaviours that are acceptable in that culture. That’s why it can be so hard to change culture once it is established.
The way that people behave in an organisation becomes ingrained in the fabric of the company. When these behaviours are negative, dysfunction can result and it’s a difficult road to change it.
Many organisations try to represent the culture through a set of values or principles. These can be very useful, as long as they are upheld and people actually live them.
Some Handy Culture Quotes
Here are a few good culture quotes to keep in mind:
Culture is set by the worst behaviour that leaders are willing to tolerate; and
The behaviour you walk past, is the behaviour you accept.
Leaders are in a position to be able to say what is acceptable, and what isn’t. Leaders have the responsibility of reinforcing a positive culture by calling out the bad behaviour and rewarding the good.
You may also have heard the saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, which is a quote by Peter Drucker. Basically, this means that no matter how good your strategy is, the way your people work together and behave will ultimately mean the success or failure of your company.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to behave in a way that creates a positive, constructive culture where people can thrive.
Learn More: Putting a Stop to the Toxic Workplace.
Leaders “Don’t Do Anything”
Sometimes, you might hear people talk about how leaders are an overpaid waste of space, or don’t do anything. This is often the experience of people who have been working under poor and ineffective leadership.
It’s true, some leaders are not very good. But others are great, and are executing on all of the points above, and more.
So the next time someone says that leaders “don’t do anything”, or questions “Why is leadership important?”, you can point them to this post.
And the next time you need a pick-me-up to help you remember why your leadership role is important, it’s worth keeping these points in mind.