I was having lunch recently with a colleague from another organization. We have similar jobs, are about the same age, have been married to our respective spouses for a long time and have children in either high school or university. As our meeting was coming to an end, a fly on the wall would have overheard the following exchange:
Him: “My children have no idea what I do for a living. Even my wife only has the vaguest idea of what I do at work all day.”
Me: “Same here, but it’s not just my immediate family: My parents, my brother, my in-laws – nobody knows what I actually do and some of the things I’ve heard over the years are just plain hilarious!”
The conversation that followed was one that I’ve had numerous times over the years with many leaders within my own industry and beyond. Members of my extended family work as doctors, nurses and teachers and in various types of technical and manual occupations. I’m the only one who has ever worked in any kind of private sector leadership role and many members of my family appear to see “bosses” in general with some amount of suspicion, especially corporate leaders. I don’t think anyone in my family sees me as being evil per se but there would definitely appear to be some misconceptions out there as to what I actually do for a living.
Based on what I’ve been able to glean from them over the years, here’s what members of my family would seem to perceive of my job:
- I often wear a suit and tie so what I do must be pretty boring.
- I do a lot of e-mail and other stuff on my computer and there’s an assumption that it involves rows of numbers (For some reason or another, my occupation seems to conjure up images of visors and sleeve garters).
- I sit through countless meetings with people pointing at flip-charts at the head of mahogany tables, and risk brain damage from unending conference calls. Once in a while, I go into a droning soliloquy as people check their smart phones under the table.
- I’m some kind of boss so I spend a lot of time telling people what to do. This entails standing behind them and telling them to move the cursor further to the right. An alternate version of this has me issuing orders to either dubious or mesmerized employees from behind a massive hardwood desk.
- Although I have played exactly two rounds of golf over the past twenty years, there is an assumption that I spend a lot of time on sunny days having tremendous fun zipping around in golf carts.
I’m being somewhat facetious of course, but not that much. There are many misconceptions regarding the role of leaders and not surprisingly, I tend to think of my role in very different terms. It’s actually pretty simple when you boil it down to the essentials and here’s how I like to describe what I do for a living:
- Attract great and diverse people to the organization and make sure that the great people that are already with us want to stay.
- From a strategic standpoint, try to understand the trends and forces that are shaping the environment that we operate in and, in collaboration with the great people previously mentioned, to develop a view of how the organization should respond to the changing environment.
- From a more operational standpoint, make sure that my team and I understand how things work on a financial, operational, regulatory level, etc. to an extent that allows us to make sound decisions and protect the organization from inappropriate risks.
- Provide lots of context to colleagues across the organization and foster a sense of a shared and meaningful purpose.
- Foster an open and inclusive culture that encourages people to bring the best of themselves to work every day – their real, rich and authentic selves – in order to unleash creativity and innovation across the organization.
- Allocate accountabilities and resources in accordance with individual and team capabilities and in accordance with corporate objectives and priorities.
- Help people and teams achieve their full potential by giving them the tools, information and support that they require and empowering them to do their jobs with as much autonomy as possible.
- Be an ambassador for the organization, within and without.
Of course, doing my job requires sending and receiving e-mails, attending meetings, dialing in to conference calls and analyzing reports. But a very large part of what I do is about people and it’s definitely not about making them miserable at work. And despite the suits and ties, it’s definitely not boring.