Competent Organizations Require Deliberate Leadership That is Competent in Four Essential Tasks

To lead the journey, these four competencies must first become habit


By Phil Liebman, Founder & CEO, The BullFrog Group

Leadership isn’t about what we know how to do – or even what we do. It’s about what we accomplish through our intentions and our actions. Our intentions are formed by how we think and our actions are guided by what we have learned and the meaning we ascribe to that learning.  The intersection of what we think and how we act are habits. These four habits of leadership will not in and of themselves produce a competent organization. (There is no recipe for that – or anything truly meaningful in life.) These habits simply prepared you to guide your organization through whatever challenges, opportunities and adversity you face – with the possibility of realizing it’s fullest potential. It is a great organization that makes a leader great. The leader’s role is to drive an effective, efficient and efficacious organization. It is in accomplishing this – that the leader becomes a great leader.

Task One:  Me-Making

Leaders need to know what they need to be – in order to accomplish what needs to be done. Think of it like parenting. Typically the first question we ask ourselves as soon as we learn we will become a parent – is “what will it take for me to “be” a good parent.” We don’t think about what to do – but what we need to be. Leaders ask the same question of themselves. How do I “show up” in situations – and what do I need to change? What skills, competencies and habits do I have that serve me in my role? And where do I lack what I need – and how can I work with that?  “Me-Making” is a process of becoming self-aware, of embracing learning as a way of life, of discovering what you need to know and becoming clear in your mind as to why it is necessary to accomplish the things you are aiming for – and how to make possible that this happens. 

Task Two: Organization-Making

Leadership is interdependent. As Peter Drucker suggested, all we need to be a leader is at least one willing follower. Organizations are simply a collection of whatever roles* are required for reaching the intended objectives of any enterprise, the systems that support that those objectives can best be met and the casting of the actors into the appropriate roles with the training necessary for accomplishing whatever it is they are needed to deliver. To be an organization-maker you must clearly understand the purpose of the organization. Without a clear purpose – you cannot have a competent organization. The greater the purpose – the greater the likelihood it can become what D. Lee Thayer defines as a  high performance organization: One that does what it does better than anyone else, and improves on that everyday, giving it a sustainable competitive advantage.

*Roles are defined by what needs to be accomplished, as opposed to “jobs” that are typically described by what a person is responsible for “doing.”

Task Three: People-Making

Great leaders raise the performance of the people they lead. They tend to see greater potential in the people than those people may even see in themselves. Leaders expand the boundaries of potential in their organizations by making it necessary for people to confront and breakthrough their limitations. They refuse to accept mediocrity and excuses. They push people outside of their comfort-zones and make it possible to constantly live in a mode of constant learning – by dismissing the value of knowing things in favor of the great value of curiosity, exploration, innovation and disruption of the status-quo. Great leaders care deeply about the personal and professional development of the people they lead – and refuse to allow people to default to being less than they can possibly be. People become competent in their roles when it is necessary to find a way to make it possible. Leaders make learning necessary by making certain that people own the consequences for their competence or lack thereof. By strategically distributing ownership of problems, a leader helps make it necessary for people to develop themselves into effective problem-solvers. The greatest problem they can solve is that of owning their own competencies.

Task Four: Meaning-Making 

Leaders make sense of what an organization does by providing the meaning behind every action – and managing that meaning to ensure that it remains firmly in place. Meaning requires maintenance to remain visible, vibrant and voluminous. The role of leadership is to create effectiveness, efficiency and efficacy within an organization. Efficacy is the connection of whatever is accomplished to the ultimate purpose for which it was intended and designed to do. Purpose is the fertilizer for sustainable growth – and the fuel of momentum. People who know deeply in their hearts why something is necessary – not merely important – are far more likely to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Organizations can add exponential multipliers to purpose – when there is true alignment. It is the leaders job to make certain that the purpose of everything impacting the performance of the organization is known to all that need to know it. The more people know “why” the better they will figure out “how.” And when a company’s stakeholders understand that “why” – they provide the accelerant that allows good companies to become high-performance organizations.

These four tasks, first described to me by Dr. Lee Thayer, are the habits required for “The Leaders Journey.” Each requires some ingenuity and inventiveness. There are many tools available for accomplishing the tasks – but any tool is only as good as the person whose hands they are in. The first step is to apprentice yourself on the use of whatever tools you need – and then remain open to the idea that the tool you need might be one you must improvise. There is no blueprint for building a fully competent organization. It is a road you build to a distant destination. Whatever turns, bridges or tunnels you need to get there – are entirely up to  you to decide. But when you travel knowing that your life – and perhaps myriad lives are truly at stake, you will realize how all of the world’s greatest accomplishments were made – and what it takes to make them.