The AMA Handbook of Leadership

By Marshall Goldsmith; John Baldoni et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19

A Question of Leadership:
What Does the Organization Need Me to Do?

John Baldoni

One of the questions that all of us engaged in leadership development have been asked at one time or another is basic: What does it mean to be a leader? For years my standard answer has been that being a leader means that you do what is right for the organization and put people into positions where they can succeed and benefit themselves and the team. This explanation still works, but I have come up with a much shorter statement—actually it is a question—that may be more precise and actionable. As a leader, what does the organization need me to do?

Leadership by nature is straightforward; putting it into practice is much tougher, especially when you are confronted with two equally attractive propositions, or “rights.” Harvard professor and business ethicist Joseph Badaracco has written and taught about this duality for years.1 His insights are relevant to leaders at every level.

The example that comes to mind is choosing whom to promote, especially when the field of candidates is well qualified. The easy answer is to put the best person for the team in charge—but what if you have two “best” people? What do you do if one is male and the other female? Or one is a minority and the other is not? Many organizations opt for diversity, and an organization that puts its qualified minority candidates into positions to influence and lead demonstrates meritocracy. On the other hand, is that fair or just to those candidates who are not chosen?

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