Gut Check: Are You Opting Out Of Important Leadership Responsibilities?

July 23, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You Opting Out Of Important Leadership Responsibilities?

Kyle prides himself on being a great technology leader. He is the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at a mid-size financial services organization and a key member of the company’s executive committee.

However, during his most recent qualitative 360 review, Kyle made an alarming discovery: his peers thought he was – for lack of a better term – opting out of key leadership responsibilities.

In the 360 feedback, Kyle (name changed) found that others in his organization, including the CEO, thought he was only interested in his own IT priorities, which often came at the expense of other priorities also important to his company.

The feedback really surprised Kyle. He had always thought the best way to support his company was to champion the IT infrastructure projects that enabled the sales force to capture market share. In Kyle’s world, it all made perfect sense.

However, his peers felt that he focused too much on this part of his job. When he showed up at executive team meetings, he only wore his CTO hat. When the team discussed broader business and people issues, Kyle would remain silent, never weighing in with his point of view.

Even though he was respected as a strong CTO, his credibility was undermined because Kyle wasn’t fulfilling the broader expectations of leadership. He was leading his department, but not contributing to the leadership of the entire organization.

This created a number of problems. The head of human resources was frustrated because the IT department didn’t follow many of the practices the organization put in place. Performance management received minimal attention. No time was spent on career development conversations with IT employees.

Kyle never green lighted his staff to take part in marketing projects, or other organization-wide initiatives. That created a lot of resentment throughout the organization.

Kyle didn’t dispute the feedback. He simply didn’t find those parts of his job interesting and so he opted-out of them.

The most interesting part of this story is that it eventually became a reflection of leadership at the CEO level. When I spoke to the CEO, she admitted her frustration at Kyle’s two-dimensional leadership. However, she also had to admit that she had never clarified her expectations of her team.

In our conversation, it became clear that she expected her executives to show up with a corporate hat on. She understood that each had their own functional responsibilities. However, she felt strongly that these couldn’t trump the broader corporate responsibilities.

Following the 360 process, she brought Kyle and the rest of her leadership team together for a meeting at which she made her expectations clear.  She wanted her team to show up with a focus on corporate priorities, not just the priorities of their individual departments.

There is great value in the backstories of Kyle and his CEO. Both came to a similar realization, albeit from a very different perspective.

They both learned that it is not acceptable to take on the mantle of leadership in an organization and then focus solely on your functional or technical area. As leaders you need to think more broadly about your company. I call it showing up with an enterprise perspective. And it’s an expectation that many organizations have of their leaders at all levels.  Sure you got to excel at your function or your area of expertise, but you need to do it with a company-wide lens.

That’s the leadership game today. You need to have a broad, deep understanding of all challenges facing your organization. You need to step up to the full responsibilities of leadership, not just those that personally interest you.

This week’s gut check question asks: Are you opting out of important leadership responsibilities?

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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