Business Leadership Today

5 Roles Every Leader Must Fill


Carol Schultz, Contributor

The importance of recognizing and addressing blind spots in leadership cannot be overstated. As someone who has worked as an executive coach and recruiter for many years, I have seen first-hand the positive impact that identifying and addressing these blind spots can have on a leader’s growth. 

One of the most common blind spots is a leader’s actual role within the organization. Often, leaders adopt roles without fully understanding the essential functions required by their position, which can hinder their effectiveness. 

While the specifics of a leader’s role may vary depending on the industry, company size, and other factors, there are several essential roles that every leader must fill on a case-by-case basis. These roles include being a safe space creator, mentor, assistant, role model, and wise parent. 

In this article, we will explore what each of these roles entails, as well as how and when to take them on. By understanding the importance of these roles and how to fulfill them effectively, leaders can better serve their teams and organizations.

1. The Safe Space Creator 

As a CEO or founder, one of your primary responsibilities is to create a safe and supportive work environment for your employees. 

You want your workers to feel comfortable coming to you with any issues they may be facing, be it personal or professional, without fear of any negative repercussions. This trust is essential in building a strong and productive team.

One of the best ways to create this safe space is by fostering a culture of feedback within your organization. This means employees at any level should feel free to share their concerns and express their opinions to their peers, superiors, or even lower-level workers. 

This type of open communication creates a sense of trust, transparency, and accountability in your organization.

Let me share a real-life example of how fostering a feedback culture can save you from a potentially catastrophic situation. 

A client hired me last year to investigate why their organization was experiencing an unusually high employee turnover rate. During my initial interviews, a mid-level employee revealed they were facing passive-aggressive behavior from one of their managers. 

Interestingly, this was a common complaint among other employees I spoke to, which indicated that this particular manager was a source of team-wide tension and dissatisfaction, leading to the departure of two employees.

When I relayed my findings to the CEO, he was shocked to learn about the situation. If he had fostered a culture of feedback, any of his employees would have felt confident enough to bring these issues to his attention long before I had to step in. 

By proactively addressing these concerns, this CEO could have prevented the loss of two valuable employees and avoided the negative impact on the team’s morale and productivity.

It’s crucial to understand that just because your employees aren’t coming to you with their concerns doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Creating a culture of feedback within your organization can help you identify and address any issues before they become a more significant problem, leading to happier and more productive employees.

2. The Mentor 

When workers need advice, be there for them as a mentor. You may or may not have been in their exact situation before, but either way, your wisdom will help your people feel connected to you. 

And the more connected and engaged workers are, the harder they’ll work for your company. According to Gallup, companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable than those with low engagement.

Many leaders think they need to coach their direct reports but leave that to professionals like myself. There’s a distinct difference between coaching and mentoring. To mentor someone, you simply need to listen, talk through an issue, and provide guidance.

You don’t need to have all the answers, but you can offer your perspective and insights based on your own experiences.

Speaking of experiences, I myself had a challenging experience early in my career. I worked for one company for nine years and was a star contributor, but when I was promoted to a management position, I received little to no mentoring on how to be an effective manager. 

As a result, I struggled in my role and was constantly reprimanded by the owner without being given the tools to improve. If he had taken the time to mentor me, I could have been much more successful.

Ensuring your managers are trained to mentor their reports is important. Employees often leave managers, not companies, so investing in leadership development can pay dividends in terms of reducing turnover and building a strong, engaged team. 

By providing your leaders with the tools and skills they need to mentor their reports effectively, you can create a culture of learning and growth that will benefit everyone involved.

3. The Assistant 

Being a leader is about more than just giving orders and delegating tasks. It’s about being a supportive team player for your employees. Good leaders are always willing to help and support their team members at any level. 

This can be demonstrated by asking a simple yet powerful question, “How can I help?” which can change the dynamic between a boss and an employee. It fosters positivity and mutual support, which is the foundation of a strong team culture.

Leaders need to be present and engaged with their team members. If you are always secluded in your corner office, you may miss out on meaningful opportunities to interact with your employees. 

Even in a virtual workplace, regularly checking in with your team is essential to offer support guidance and keep communication flowing. A quick phone call or video chat can significantly affect someone’s decision to stay with or leave your company.

As a leader, it’s important to understand that no task is beneath you. By being open to learning new things and taking on responsibilities that may not be your forte, you can foster a culture of collaboration and mutual support among your team members. 

This approach can level the playing field and encourage your employees to see you as a colleague rather than just “the boss.”

4. The Role Model 

Being a successful employee requires more than just completing your daily tasks and delivering results. It is also about being a good role model and setting an example for your colleagues. 

One way to achieve this is by identifying the characteristics that you find most important, such as collaboration, active listening, adaptability, and hard work, and making a conscious effort to exemplify them every day.

By doing so, you not only earn the respect of your colleagues but also inspire them to emulate the same behavior.

Another great way to lead by example is by hosting regular meetings with managers from different departments. During the meetings, take the time to listen to the roadblocks your managers are experiencing and create a discussion around them.

This approach shows that you care about their concerns and provides them with valuable insight and solutions. When your managers go back to their teams and hold their own meetings, they are more likely to incorporate your methods and practices, leading to a more cohesive and productive work environment and better outcomes for the entire organization.

Remember, being a good role model is not only beneficial for yourself but also for those around you. It can help create a positive work culture and inspire others to strive for excellence.

5. The Wise Parent 

Allowing employees to learn from their mistakes is an essential aspect of leadership. 

While it may be tempting to micromanage your team and avoid errors at all costs, this approach can ultimately hinder their growth and development. Instead, leaders should learn to lead with patience and trust in their employees’ abilities to learn from their mistakes.

Just like children, employees need the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. If you intervene and prevent them from making mistakes, they may not learn the lesson and repeat the same error. Let your workers explore their ideas and take risks, even if it means making mistakes.

As a young and inexperienced leader, I used to be a perfectionist and monitored my employees closely to avoid errors. However, I soon realized that this approach hindered their professional development. So, I learned to let go of control and adopt the “Socratic” method of learning.

The Socratic method of learning involves guiding employees through questioning and allowing them to learn by doing. This approach doesn’t mean that you’re leaving your workers alone to fail. Instead, it’s about providing guidance and allowing them to explore and learn from their mistakes.

Leadership requires a delicate balance between guiding and allowing employees to make mistakes. By giving your workers the space to learn and grow, you’ll foster a culture of innovation and creativity within your team.

Addressing Other Blind Spots

Another common blind spot that leaders often face is a lack of self-awareness. Leaders who lack self-awareness may struggle to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, which can hinder their ability to delegate tasks, collaborate effectively with others, and make informed decisions. 

This can also lead to a lack of trust and respect from team members, who may feel that their leader is out of touch with their needs and concerns.

To address this blind spot, leaders must be willing to seek out feedback from others, including their team members, peers, and mentors. This feedback can help them gain a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as identify areas for improvement. 

It’s also important for leaders to engage in self-reflection and introspection, taking time to evaluate their own performance and consider how they can continue to grow and develop as a leader.

In addition to self-awareness, another essential characteristic of effective leadership is emotional intelligence. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are able to recognize and understand their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. 

This allows them to communicate effectively, build strong relationships with team members, and make decisions that are grounded in empathy and compassion.

Recognizing and addressing blind spots is essential for any leader who wants to be effective and successful. By taking the time to evaluate their own performance, seek out feedback, and develop their emotional intelligence, leaders can better serve their teams and organizations and better fulfill their roles.

Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes, Too

As a leader, you may feel overwhelmed by the many roles you are expected to fill. It can be tempting to strive for perfection, but it’s important to remember that you are only human. 

Just like any other employee, you will make mistakes, and that’s okay. In fact, making mistakes is a crucial part of the learning process—it’s how we grow and improve. 

If you find yourself struggling with any of the five key roles that are expected of you, or if you make the wrong decision in a particular situation, don’t worry too much. Your employees will appreciate the effort you put in and your willingness to learn. 

Showing that you are open to feedback and willing to adapt to new situations is a sign of strength, not weakness. So don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember you’re doing your best.

Becoming a great leader is not an easy task, but by recognizing the importance of the essential roles that every leader must fill, you can become an effective and successful leader.

Leaders who can create a safe and supportive work environment, mentor their team, delegate tasks effectively, set a positive example, and act as a wise parent are more likely to succeed than those who neglect these essential roles.

By adopting these roles, you can create a positive and productive work culture, build trust and transparency within your team, and ensure every team member feels valued and supported. Additionally, filling these roles helps you develop a more well-rounded leadership style, which will better serve you and your team in the long run.

CAROL SCHULTZ, founder and CEO of Vertical Elevation, is a talent equity and leadership advisory expert with 30 years in the business. She’s helped hundreds of companies transform their organizations and create sustainable, talent-centric cultures that run at maximum efficiency. Her new book is Powered By People: How Talent-Centric Organizations Master Recruitment, Retention, and Revenue (and How to Build One).  

Others Recent Articles and Podcast Episodes