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Being a Strong Leader Means Knowing What Not to Hand Off

We write a lot about the power of and need for delegation here at BELAY. And, yes, there is much to be said about the benefits of leaders learning to loosen the reins and get help when they need it. Doing so empowers team members, builds organizational agility, and even fosters an internal culture of continuous growth and learning.

But for all the good that comes out of assigning certain tasks and functions to employees and contractors, did you know that there are some areas of responsibility that are too critical and so vital that they should never leave the executive table? For entrepreneurs, nonprofit heads, faith organization leaders and business C-suiters, there are certain strategic imperatives that cannot risk being left to chance, even in the hands of capable staffers.

These are responsibilities that are more than tasks, duties or assignments; they are features tied to a company’s focus and future. As the parable goes, when it comes to these high-value domains, “To whom much is given, much (more) is required.”

And such is the pivotal lot of the leader regarding what not to delegate.

Employee Engagement

If a company's talent strategy were a house, employee engagement would be like its foundation. Built onto this symbolic foundation would be the concrete, block and stone – represented by chief leaders.

The way people feel about where they work, their jobs and how they're treated form the nuts and bolts of employee engagement. Research shows that dissatisfied talent perform more poorly. Unhappy staffers experience more sick days. And underutilized skills eventually find elsewhere to thrive.

It's no surprise then that the costs of negative employee engagement are high. They can even outsize the business costs of employees themselves. Gallup reports that disengaged employees cost up to $550 billion in lost productivity per year in the U.S. On a macro level, this is a sobering figure. On a scaled-down, small-business level, the results can be caustic.

Because employee engagement is so deeply integral to the DNA of a business, leaders can't afford to opt out of playing an active role in it. They can't parse it out to department heads and leave it on autopilot. They shouldn't assume that all managers understand and activate employee engagement in alignment with the vision. And leaders would be remiss to discount hands-on involvement by assuming that the workers alone should self-administer it.

The Strategic Plan

The strategic framework for an organization is usually plotted on a three-, five- or 10-year plan. And it may be governed by a board of directors or other stakeholders in partnership with the executive team. Still, just because there may be many players connected to this master plan, that doesn't give leaders a reprieve from supreme responsibility in realizing it.

Typically, various department heads or functional leads are charged with executing segments of a broader strategic plan. There may be 10,000-foot goals related to technology or marketing, and 30,000-foot ones pertaining to business development, product design or market penetration. Designated executive vice presidents, vice presidents or managing directors may be assigned these objectives, which are distributed among and tactically pursued by their respective groups.

But the core face of organizational strategy is the chief leader, be it the CEO of a big business or the entrepreneur of a small startup. For this reason, they cannot simply sign off on it, hope for the best and leave active monitoring and molding of it to the wind.

In a 2012 Washington Post article, Les Trachtman wrote: “Whether you’re the CEO of a global corporation, founder of a mom and pop business, or simply head of your own household, it’s absolutely critical to make time for thinking strategically and planning. Otherwise, you might be working day and night, and wake up one day to realize, perhaps painfully, that the business or life you set out to create is headed straight off a cliff.”

Mission and Vision

The mission and vision of an organization may be created by committee. But the business owner and chief leaders are the ambassadors of keeping it authentic and alive.

As children, many of us learned that a “Do as I say, not as I do" credo isn’t very convincing, and the same lesson applies for leadership in preserving the company's philosophy and purpose. Mission and vision are ideals, and sometimes they speak to intangible concepts that business attempts to apply in practical, pragmatic ways.

Ideally, the vision and mission flow through the company culture. To give it deeper, more applicable roots, they may be integrated into the code of conduct. They are built into the performance management process. Mission and vision can be embedded into customer service, vendor relations and community outreach practices.

Even so, “An effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision,” according to the late management thought leader Peter Drucker.

This calls for connecting the dots between the past, present and future, so that organizational ethics, processes and personality align. It requires stimulating the buy-in and belief that promotes the enterprise, internally and externally. Such a challenge cannot flow from the bottom up, or from the middle sideways; it must manifest from the top down.

As a leader, what do you hold close and understand you must own as the gatekeeper of your company? How do you sustain vision, strategic planning and employee engagement, yet include others in advancing success? Share with us by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear from you.