It’s interesting when you ask this question to managers, many respond with “I am so and so” <fill-in-your-title>. At best, that might be a good start to answering the question. I guess, the answer - in some sense depends on the setting in which the question is asked (in some situations, spitting out your title might be good-enough).
Most importantly, to me – as a leader, one needs to ask this question to oneself, every so often. So I asked myself “How will I really define what I do“. And, it was NOT easy to answer this question satisfactorily. I started with – well, I manage people. I go to boss’s staff. I run all these meetings. Those are tasks-that-you-do to fullfill some higher level goals. So I set on a mission to try to answer this question more crisply. I read blogs, read leadership books and listened to some talks etc (am still doing that). I quite liked the talk given by Arun Sarin (ex-CEO of Vodafone) at the Haas School of Business, Berkeley. The talk is on youtube here. Arun is a fascinating speaker. I wanted to map the things-that-I-do into some set of Categories to derive a big-picture. And his talk helped with that a lot. So, in essence, according to Arun – leadership has the following 3 high level facets:
Depending on your role in the organization and your organizational structure, different weight-age may be assigned to each one of the above. How much time you spend focusing on each of these areas – also depends on the day of the week, the week of the year and really – on what’s going on. But great leaders need to be strong in all 3 of the above areas. Anyway, I started to observe my day and tried to map my day to these 3 categories. There are items that straddle these categories for sure. E.g. Communication – some is about people, other is strategic and other is more operational (this day, this week etc). Hiring – is about people, but also requires strategic thinking and operational execution. So, many tasks that you do require expertise in all 3 areas.
Its obvious that people form the basis of all other things. If you are in a leadership role, you are not doing most things yourself. You need people to do them. So, without people, there is NOTHING. Next, Strategic: you have the people and you believe they are exceptional and talented, but if the efforts and focus is not in the right direction strategically, you will not WIN. So, I place Strategy ahead of Operations. And finally, Operational Excellence is what makes-things-happen, what keeps you competitive in the marketplace, what keeps people happy, motivated and productive, in summary: what moves the needle forward.
None of this is groundbreaking or even new – but it’s something to remember at the back of your mind as you wade through your days and weeks and try to understand “What is it that you do”. This understanding helps provide a big picture and helped me with self-introspection.