The Leadership Contract

April 1, 2014 Vince Molinaro

The Leadership Contract

By Vince Molinaro, Managing Director, Leadership Solutions, Knightsbridge

For many years, an employment contract existed between employees and organizations. You know the one ─ you get a job, agree to be a strong performer, remain loyal, and the organization would take care of you until you retire.

But did you know that there is also a leadership contract? Most employees don’t, and many are unaware of its terms and conditions.

The fact is that many leaders enter into the leadership contract without ever really knowing what’s involved. It’s a lot like downloading software onto your computer. At some point during the installation process, you will be presented with long, boring, exhaustive terms and conditions for the download. And you know that if you don’t accept them, you won’t be able to complete the process. So you click agree, without ever reading the terms.

In an alarming parallel, we have many leaders today who just clicked ‘agree’ to get the promotion, the higher salary, the power and the perks, without truly understanding what it is they’re signing up for. That has created many reluctant leaders who cannot effectively serve their organizations. That’s why leadership has become such a critical priority in organizations today. The leadership gaps of today won’t enable organizations to succeed tomorrow. Every organization knows that they must do better when it comes to leadership.

Doing better begins with understanding this idea of the leadership contract and its four main terms and conditions. 

Leadership is a decision. Make it.

Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, has made it to five Super Bowls, winning three times. Clearly a strong leader, however, Brady wasn’t always successful. As a college student at the University of Michigan, coaches and fans alike doubted his skills. He didn’t have a strong throwing arm and his mobility wasn’t that great. In his first two years at Michigan, Brady was understudy to another quarterback, Drew Henson.

Brady got so discouraged that he even started to think about transferring to another college. Then he had a talk with his coach, who told Brady to forget about Henson and focus on his own game. Resolved to prove himself, Brady watched extra game film, worked on his physical skills, and focused on his ability to read defenses and see open receivers. He believed passing accuracy was more critical than a powerful arm. In short, Brady made a concerted decision to become a leader. Brady’s story is important because it reminds us that great leadership begins with a decision to lead.  A decision to be the best you can be, even when things may not be going as you want.

Sometimes, it’s all too easy for leaders to forget that leadership is ultimately a decision. Of all the great leaders I’ve worked with, they all describe times in their careers where they made the conscious decision to be the leader. Unfortunately, in my work, I also see a lot of leaders who are simply filling the role without ever consciously deciding to lead, and accepting all aspects of the job. Like Tom Brady, this will help you take your game to the next level.

Leadership is an obligation. Step up.

Many leaders don’t appreciate that leadership brings significant obligation.  In the end, it’s not all about you - it’s about your customers, your employees, your shareholders and the communities in which you do business. It means thinking and behaving differently, and acknowledging you are no longer a bystander in your organization, but that you must step up every single day to make things better.

Through my research and consulting work, I have found that there is an emerging set of common leadership expectations and obligations. Leaders today and tomorrow must be able to:

  1. Align and engage. You need to understand your company’s strategy and your role in executing it. Your organization needs you to align and engage employees so they can effectively deploy the strategy in a way that delivers value to customers, shareholders, and to society.
  2. Take an enterprise-wide perspective. Your organization needs you to collaborate across the silos in order to lead change and get important work done. So you must adopt and engrain a “one company” mindset in how you operate as a leader, rather than being self-absorbed with your own functional area or line of business.
  3. Build relationships. In this interconnected and interdependent world, relationships matter more than ever. Invest time getting to know internal and external stakeholders. Build relationships on a foundation of trust and transparency.
  4. Master complexity and uncertainty. Today’s increasingly complicated business environment creates many challenges. In this environment, your role as a leader is to create focus and help employees deal with ambiguity and the stress it brings.
  5. Develop other leaders. Leave a legacy of strong leaders within your organization. It’s about making your leaders stronger, so they can make the organization stronger.
  6. Model the values. You cannot be focused exclusively on your own personal agenda or goals. The organization’s vision, values, and goals must always trump ego and self-interest. This means balancing strong self-confidence with humility. You also need to set the bar high for yourself because mediocre leadership won’t cut it anymore.

Leadership is hard. Get tough.

If you’ve been leader for any period of time, you know it is hard to do. As a result, leaders need to get tough so they can effectively lead through all the pressure they encounter.

You will need to be resilient. However, being able to take a punch and shake it off is only part of what it means to have leadership toughness. You will also need a real sense of personal resolve and determination.

You will need to understand that being tough is not about being rough. Yelling at people is easy. Mistreating employees is easy. Real toughness involves having the courage to make difficult decisions about poor performers, holding people accountable, and delivering candid feedback. However, instead of dealing with these issues head-on, many leaders wimp out. And as a result, they are not fulfilling their leadership obligation. 

Leadership is a community. Connect.

Hurricane Irene hit the Caribbean, the U.S. East Coast, and parts of Eastern Canada in August of 2011. A couple of days after the storm, I was flying home to Toronto after a business trip. On the plane, I was surrounded by a group of eight young men who were talking loudly, joking around, full of excitement and energy.

After striking up a conversation with the group, I found out they were a line crew for a utility company headed to Toronto to pick up some trucks and then drive to Connecticut to repair electrical lines damaged by the hurricane.

This mission explained why they were so excited, but as the flight continued I noticed something else about this group. They were constantly teasing each other. They shifted easily from talking about their personal lives to talking about the job. It was obvious that they shared a deep connection. They weren’t just friendly coworkers; they had a true bond.

I asked one of the group why they were “so tight”? He said, “Doing the kind of work we do, we’re taking our lives into our hands every single day. We’re like a band of brothers. We have to have each others’ backs – one mistake and you can lose somebody forever.”

How many of us can say that we feel this way about our own colleagues at work? Do you have a band of brothers and sisters in your organization? I don’t think it should take a hurricane to build a bond like that. Make the choice to connect with your fellow leaders on a personal level. It’s time to change the quality of our relationships at work. It’s time we expect more from ourselves and our fellow leaders. If you do, you will take the first step towards creating a community of leaders. And if you do, you will build a strong leadership culture that will begin to set your organization apart. 

Building a Community of Leaders – The Organizational and Personal Commitment

Building a strong community of leaders is critical to your organization’s success. It is the ultimate differentiator. It’s at the core of the leadership contract.

At an organizational level, commit to use the terms and conditions described above to create your own leadership contract. One that clearly spells out what you expect from your leaders and what you will not tolerate. Find ways to help your leaders build relationships with one another – it’s difficult to build a community of leaders among a group of strangers. Commit to building the best leadership in your industry. 

Over time you will begin to see a higher degree of alignment and engagement among your leaders. They will demonstrate a “one company” mindset, rather than engaging in turf wars. They will break down silos and drive greater innovation, collaboration, and performance. Your leadership culture will become self-sustaining and will be your ultimate differentiator.

At a personal level, you can also start to make a difference. Take a moment to reflect on the leadership contract.  Ask yourself which area you have been neglecting as a leader? It’s time to take your personal leadership to the next level. It’s your obligation to your organization. Review the terms and conditions of the leadership contract then make a commitment to sign up to be the leader you must be.

Leadership is a decision. Make it.
Leadership is an obligation. Step up.
Leadership is hard. Get tough.
Leadership is a community. Connect.

Start today.

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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