When The Leader Emerges

There is much talk these days about leadership. But to me, leadership is not as simple as skill or poise or authority. And I don’t think you become a leader in a classroom. It is much more than just a management approach.

But in the good times it is hard to tell a gifted manager from a leader. And it probably doesn’t matter. But there are times when a leader is essential.

Leaders are needed when…

  • Projects are a mess and the respective customers are angry. And there are more projects headed for the same bad result – it just hasn’t shown up yet. The team has fixed the issue, but the continuing noise casts a cloud over the team making it hard for them to be positive.
  • A commitment was made for product features that don’t exist and they are essential to the customer’s success. The contract commits to the features, but it was missed in the implementation and it will take another year to get it done. The customer is calling for the refund allowed for in the contract – and the company doesn’t have the money.
  • The seasonal business takes an exceptionally unseasonal turn and you are running out of cash. There is no line of credit (because who needs one in the good times) and no one can remember the name of your banker. The company needs money, and there isn’t any. Payroll is next week. And inventory is needed for the beginning of the selling season next month.
  • The second round of funding is on the horizon and the original concept for the business isn’t working. At least not the way it was envisioned. Things require a plan B, but the team can’t agree on one. The initial investors are restless and threatening to insert themselves into the business.
  • The newest version of the software product is severely flawed. Many of the new features don’t work and some key ones have been impaired. The support group is flooded with phone calls from angry customers who are demanding answers and the engineering team is struggling to find them. Worse, there is suspicion the new version is corrupting the client data.

A leader is needed when the company has failed. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, or particularly what went wrong (at least at this time). The company has failed and it needs a single voice in response.

This is when the leader emerges and…

Takes it off the team’s plate and places it squarely upon their own. This is not a time for systems or lieutenants. The team operates the business day-to-day. The problem becomes solely the leader’s. The leader has the best chance for the highest outcome.

Makes an appointment with the other party’s top executive. The leader gets to the top of the chain (not the executive embarrassed by failing in the commitment – (that conversation is for another day). The leader’s meeting with the top executive is one-to-one. At that meeting the leader is the expert about the problem, its current status, and possible resolutions.

Works out a resolution that best fits the customer. The leader’s approach is humility and responsibility. Negotiates a resolution that can be fulfilled with a safety margin and is NOT pressured into making promises unlikely to be fulfilled. The leader remains in communication with the top executive so any news, good or bad, comes first and directly from the leader.

Communicates the resolution to the team and closes the problem. Whether more time, free product or services, a financial settlement, a lawsuit, or anything else, informing the team of the resolution brings the matter to a conclusion. The leader then moves forward, leaving the past behind. Post-mortems and changes to keep the same problem from occurring again are the responsibility of systems and lieutenants.

Leaders are not elected, nor are they appointed. A leader’s power comes from being chosen by the people they lead. Leaders step forward in times of crisis and often this is when they are chosen. Teams remember.

When the situation calls for a leader, a leader must emerge. All CEOs should be leaders, but not all leaders are CEOs.

If leaders don’t emerge in your organization, contact me. I can help.



I think whether you’re having setbacks or not,

the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.

– Colin Powell






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