The 4 Terms of The Leadership Contract


An employment contract once existed between employees and organizations: you get a job, perform well, remain loyal, and the organization takes care of you until you retire.

But there’s also a leadership contract with four main terms and conditions.

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

1. Leadership is a Decision—make it. Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, has made it to five Super Bowls, winning three. 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 lacked a strong throwing arm and his mobility was limited. In his first two years at Michigan, Brady was understudy to Drew Henson. Brady got so discouraged that he thought about transferring to another college. Then his coach 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 reading defenses, seeing open receivers, and excelling in pass- ing accuracy. In short, Brady made a decision to become a leader.

Great leadership begins with a decision to lead—to be the best you can be, even when things may not be going as you want. It’s easy for leaders to forget that leadership is ultimately a decision. At some point, great leaders make the decision to be the leader. Unfortunately, many leaders are simply filling the role. Deciding to lead, and accepting all aspects of the job, will help you take your game to the next level.

2. Leadership is an Obligation—step up. Leadership is not all about you— it’s about your customers, employees, shareholders, and communities. It means thinking and behaving differently, and acknowledging you’re no longer a bystander—you step up daily to make things better.

There’s an emerging set of six common leadership expectations and obligations:

  1. Align and engage. You need to know the company strategy and your role in executing it—and align and engage people so they can deploy the strategy in a way that delivers value to customers, shareholders, and society.

  2. Take an enterprise-wide perspective. You need to collaborate across silos to lead change and get important work done. Adopt a “one company” mind- set in how you operate as a leader, rather than being self-absorbed with your 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 stake- holders. Build relationships of trust and transparency.

  4. Master complexity and uncertainty. Today’s complicated environment creates challenges. As a leader, your role is to create focus and help people deal with ambiguity and stress.

  5. Develop other leaders. Leave a legacy of strong leaders. It’s about making your leaders stronger, so they can make the organization stronger.

  6. Model the values. You can’t focus exclusively on your personal agenda or goals. The organization’s vision, values, and goals must trump ego and self-interest. This means balancing strong self-confidence with humility.

3. Leadership is hard—get tough.

Since great leadership is hard to do, leaders need to get tough—be resilient—to lead effectively. However, being able to take a punch is only part of what it means to get tough. You need to see 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. Instead of dealing with these issues head-on, many leaders wimp out.

4. Leadership is a Community—connect. Hurricane Irene hit the Caribbean, the U.S. East Coast, and parts of Eastern Canada in August of 2011. Two days after the storm, I was flying home to Toronto. On the plane, I was surround- ed by eight young men who were full of excitement and energy. 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. I noticed that they were constantly teasing each other. They shifted easily from talking about their person- al lives to talking about the job. They obviously 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, “In our work, we take our lives into our hands every day. We’re like a band of brothers. We 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 colleagues? Do you have a band of brothers and sisters? I don’t think it takes 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 a strong leader- ship culture that sets your organization apart.

Community of Leaders

Since great leadership is hard to do, leaders need to get tough—be resilient—to lead effectively.

Building a strong community of leaders is the ultimate differentiator—and it’s at the core of the leadership contract. So, commit to use the terms and conditions to create your leadership contract— one that spells out what you expect from your leaders and what you won’t tolerate. Help your leaders build relationships. Commit to building the best leadership in your industry.

Over time you’ll see a higher degree of alignment and engagement among your leaders. They’ll demonstrate a one company mindset, rather than engaging in turf wars. They’ll break down silos and drive greater innovation, collaboration, and performance. Your leader- ship culture will become self-sustaining.

At a personal level, you can also make a difference. As you think on the leadership contract, ask yourself which area you have been neglecting? Take your personal leadership to the next level. 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 community. Connect. Start today.

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