The Nine Roles of a Leader

As a leader in your organization, you have several roles. When I first started exploring this idea, I came up with about five different hats a leader wears. Today, I have nine different roles a leader may use in any given day. Some of the roles have similarities, but I can make a case for distinctions and uniqueness for all nine.

As you review this list, consider how much time you are currently spending in each role Vs. how much time should you be spending in each role. Here are my nine different roles (hats) of a leader.

1. Manager – The manager role involves moving something forward. Managing usually involves a metric or a goal and managing people, things, and/or processes toward that goal. Think “Project Management”.

2. Mentor – The mentor role focuses on giving advice/wisdom from experience about the organization, the industry, the job, the employee’s career, and anything else the person may want to talk about.

3. Coach – The coach role is designed to help someone get from where they are to where they want to be. The coach role focuses on the employee owning their own problems, opportunities, and solutions. What makes the coach role unique is it involves good listening and asking questions vs. giving advice. I call this “inquiries vs. assumptions”.

4. Self – The self role is doing your own job and handling the responsibilities of your job.

5. Boss – The boss role focuses on making tough decisions reserved for your job. These decisions may include the direction of the team/department/organization, hiring/firing, conflict management, and discipline. The boss role is not always popular. The best bosses gather the information they need, make the decision, and own the decision.

6. Leader – The leader role is the strategic, futuristic, and optimistic role. As the leader, you are out front communicating the strategic direction of the team/organization’s future. The excellent leader role builds community, fans, and followers. The leader role tends to have more of a “cheerleader” vibe; “We are going to be OK!”

7. Subject Matter Expert (SME) – SME’s are technical experts in the job, the organization, and/or the industry. It differs from the mentor role as the SME is more technical and the mentor role is more personal. SME advice is usually backed by fact where a mentor’s advice contains more instinct and experience.

8. Liaison – The liaison role bridges people, projects, and/or processes between departments. The liaison helps their employees get results from other departments that don’t report to them. The liaison role has also been called the integrator.

9. Sounding Board – Some call this the “therapist” or the “chief listening officer”. As a sounding board, you are listening to someone complain/compliment/chit-chat/talk/vent/spew/bitch & moan/whine (I’m sure you can think of other terms)/ about anything and everything that may or may not be job-related. I guesstimate there is an 80%-20% split between complaints/problems vs. compliments/opportunities in the sounding board role.

The best leaders know what hat they need to wear for any given situation and they recognize when they are changing hats to fit the current situation by saying something like, “I hear and value your concerns over the current vaccination and masking policy. Are you wanting me in listen-only mode (sounding board) or do you want advice (mentor) or do you want to work this out yourself (coach)?” The best also know when they feel they are spending too much or too little time in any given role and make the adjustment.

If you want help with role clarity regarding yourself or any job on your team or in your organization, please reach out to me: [email protected]