Strong leadership is the true cornerstone of an organization. Although there is only one CEO or one owner, there are many levels of leadership and leadership positions that are within every department. Every organization must have clearly defined roles as to what each leader does and how they interact with the positions above and below them.
This means every organization has a chain of command or "business hierarchy," which takes a pyramidal form, with the biggest segment of employees at the base of the pyramid.
These employees who constitute the pyramid base are supervised by a relatively smaller group of immediate managers who, in return, are managed by the directors placed above them in the hierarchy. As a result, these levels in the business hierarchy continue until they reach the highest level comprised of the executives, CEOs, and board of directors.
The levels in any business hierarchy have predefined steps represented by designations and which keep on narrowing from bottom to top. These hierarchies are useful in developing an understanding of the different roles in the organization. The following are the major levels in the business hierarchy ranging from top to bottom, and the primary focus for each level:
- Executive - focused on setting the vision and objective
- Director - sets the goals from the objective and develops the strategy
- Manager - coordinates the tactics to achieve the strategy and objective
- Employee - carries out the tasks based on the tactics given to them
In this guide, we'll cover the primary positions of leadership and how to lead at every level of your business.
Generally, a president or CEO sits at the top of a business hierarchy and is primarily responsible for high-level, broad-reaching issues like corporate strategy and company policy, along with mission-defining decisions. There may be a full C-suite that supports the CEO, including roles such as chief financial officer, chief information officer, chief marketing officer, chief technical officer, and more. Other executive titles may include Managing Directors, General Managers, Presidents, and Vice Presidents. These are the personnel involved in the planning of the business along with overseeing its performance. They oversee both business and administration activities from the top levels.
These professionals are meant to make the business successful in the long term perspective. Thus, they need great conceptual decision-making, reasoning, and extraordinary skills. This personnel is required to navigate the business activities all the time and make the right decisions for the success of the business.
In the 5 Levels of Leaders, John Maxwell states, "leaders are measured by the caliber of the leaders they develop, the caliber of their own leadership." While executives are responsible for leading the organization to their ideal company vision, they need to empower and develop leaders within their company so that they can make their own decisions, much like an intrapreneur.
What they should be focusing on
A high-level executive is responsible for setting the foundation to ensure long-term success. Their primary focus is to establish the vision and objective of the company.
Here's what executives should be focusing on:
- Company culture
- Vision setting
- Resourcing the teams to achieve that vision
- High-level metrics KPI requirements and analysis
Their primary focus should be company culture, vision setting, resourcing the teams to achieve that vision, high-level metric KP requirements, and analysis.
Company culture can be characterized as the shared ethos of an. It's the way people in the company feel about the work they do, where they see the company going, the values they believe in, and what they're doing to get it there. Collectively, these unique traits represent the personality or culture of an organization. A company's culture influences result from top to bottom. Part of the CEO's job is to create the core values and mission statement of the company and distill them to other leadership positions below.
Additionally, CEOs and executives are responsible for monitoring the financial health of the organization and determining whether their plans are successful or not. Some examples of high-level metrics include the annual growth rate, gross profit margin, operating expense ratio, cash conversion cycle, and others.
Of course, the specific metrics will depend on the type of executive. For example, a CEO has a different metric than a board of directors, CFO, or CMO. A CMO would be focused on big picture marketing metrics like customer lifetime value and cost per customer acquisition.
What Happens When Executives Don’t Stay Focused on Their Primary Objective
When you don't stay focused on the primary objective of establishing and enforcing company culture, it can lead to chaos within the company. In fact, a toxic work culture results in workplace "illnesses," such as lack of cohesion among teams, increased absences and tardiness, lower productivity, and high turnover.
The buck stops at the executive level. Executives must hold the directors accountable while also developing them into strong and capable leaders. If not, the directors may not be able to problem-solve on their own, thus causing the executives to step in on the strategy and tactics level.
Additionally, executives must clearly establish the main focus of the company. For example, executives might set their primary objective to boost brand loyalty, meaning they'll want to set repeat customers and customer lifetime value at the forefront of their KPI tracking. If the vision isn't clearly passed onto the directors, they may not relay the message to other leadership levels below. As a result, nothing changes, and the company could stagnate in growth.
Successful Outcomes when you are focused and stay out of other level's primary objectives
Successful Outcomes When Executives Are Focused And Stay Out of Other Level’s Primary Objectives
When executives and CEOs are focused on their objectives, the company achieves organizational alignment across all leadership levels and departments.
Ask many successful investors what they look for in large portfolio companies, and they'll likely tell you they'd rather put their resources on an average strategy in the hands of great company talent than on a great strategy but only average talent.
The best CEOs put equal discipline and rigor into achieving greatness through both strategy and talent. Typically, senior leaders believe their biggest regret is taking too long to move lesser performers out of crucial roles or out of the organization altogether.
The reasons for this are both practical and symbolic. CEOs and executives should have the leverage to make the best decisions for the organization, and leaders who tolerate bad behavior or poor performance will only diminish their influence. Many CEOs say they regret leaving adequate performers in key positions of the company and failing to realize the full potential in their most vital roles. The top CEOs think systematically about their people: which roles they're in, what they can achieve, and how the business should operate to increase people's impact.
When These Guidelines Don’t Apply
C-level executives may have to expand their role if they see the vision set forth is unlikely to be achieved based on the goals and strategies set by directors. The first step is to always check with directors to see how they can provide guidance and clarity.
However, to gain a better understanding of why the objectives won't be achieved, the C-level executives may need to perform skip-level meetings with managers to check in on the strategies being requested of them and the tactics they're using. The executives aren't trying to give direct instructions but rather gather an understanding of what's going on with the team so that they can help train the directors and offer feedback on alternative strategies.
Director-level professionals and VPs usually report to the c-suite, and there may be additional managers overseeing various teams or projects within each department. The director is typically a department or division head within the organization. They are responsible for supervising and leading a group of managers and employees in a particular department. For example, larger companies usually have a director of human resources, director of production, director of information technology, and director of marketing. Smaller businesses may have only one or a few directors, although a company's executive hierarchy depends on their needs, which may change as the company expands.
The director title sometimes refers to the first stage or lowest level in an executive team, though this isn't always the case. Some large companies may have more than one level of directors, such as having both an associate and a senior director. In this case, the senior director will be in charge of a larger part of the organization and have more responsibilities than a typical associate director. In general, these designations are based on the company ranking, with the highest director position being the executive director or director of operations.
What Directors Should Be Focusing On
The responsibilities of a director can vary depending on the department they're in. Here are some common responsibilities that a director may focus on:
- Overseeing all activities for managers and other employees in their department
- Reporting to executives such as C-level positions in the department
- Developing and implementing policies and strategies for executives to review
- Planning, directing, and coordinating department efforts
- Evaluating strategies and plans for departmental success
- Ensuring a healthy work environment for their managers and employees
- Understanding and creating department budgets for upper-management
Essentially, directors are responsible for taking the big grandiose vision of the executives and strategizing how to get there.
A director must frequently lead projects that span many groups and departments. They must be able to lead people and teams they don't directly manage themselves, which requires an entirely new set of leadership skills.
Directors, unlike managers, should excel at teaching rather than prescribing. An excellent director teaches "why we do things the way we do" instead of "what and how we do it." There is a huge difference between the two approaches.
For instance, in Marketing, it's one thing to be able to tell people what the message and positioning are for a specific audience segment. This is manager-level type of thinking. You accurately communicate the message so that employees can build and execute the appropriate campaigns.
The director level of marketing is focused on the strategic aspect of each channel and marketing department. For example, they might think about frameworks, models, and strategies to better ensure that marketing achieves the expected ROI. Instead of determining the campaign tactics, directors might look at the entire sales funnel and map out how to effectively market their business at every step of the customer journey.
What Happens When Directors Don’t Stay Focused On Their Primary Objective
When directors are incapable of performing their job to a high level, chaos can ensue. For example, managers may be unclear about how to best implement the strategies set forth by the team.
Let's say the sales director wants to achieve a specific target of revenue growth this year and improve customer retention rates. Without a clear strategy on how to achieve this, managers will be forced to guess possible tactics. This results in sales reps becoming inefficient and unproductive with their time, yielding lackluster results.
In this case, a director may set up new sales strategies that would yield more growth, such as teaching managers how to better upsell their products or even find ways to shorten the sale cycle leading to revenue growth.
Successful Outcomes When Directors Are Focused And Stay Out of Other Levels Primary Objectives
When directors are focused on their primary objectives, they help facilitate the execution of the plan set forth by executives. Besides simply hitting the goals of the company, there are other outcomes that are tied to the director.
Successful directors can develop managers to ensure they properly lead their team of employees. Often times the success of a particular department or team will demonstrate the value of the director.
When These Guidelines Don’t Apply
Sometimes directors must be resourceful with their role. If executives aren't setting clear goals or if directors aren't clear on the vision, they might need to build it themselves and verify with the executive level.
Additionally, directors may need to offer additional support to lower leadership levels when they see evidence in KPI result reports that the current tactics won't achieve the goal. When you see that tactics from the manager and employee level aren't working, it's time to readjust by providing proper guidance, training, or setting new systems to help the company achieve the desired goals.
Directors will need to review the reports to see where the numbers are unlikely to add up to achieve the goals and support managers so that they understand how to optimize a variety of simultaneous tactics.
Depending on the organization, managers are usually responsible for not only managing employees but also handling the same duties as their team members. For example, while a customer service rep may interact with customers more frequently, a customer service manager may be called to settle a customer dispute. Managers also serve as a bridge between employees and upper-level management. They are responsible for reporting how their team is performing and will usually advocate on behalf of their team to secure the resources to support what they need.
What Managers Should Be Focusing On
Managers are responsible for establishing goals that align with business objectives. These professionals must develop and implement actionable strategies to help their team meet those targets. To ensure their team successfully reaches its goals, managers will do the following:
- Delegate and assign the right individuals for each task.
- Set appropriate deadlines.
- Clearly communicate the goal to employees.
- Motivate and inspire employees to reach each objective.
- Check-in with their team to ensure they're making progress.
- Set key performance indicators and metrics to measure success.
- Regularly review performance metrics.
- Make strategy adjustments when necessary.
Effective managers continually reevaluate their tactics and find ways to make sure employees are working in the most efficient way possible. They look for opportunities to adjust their objectives and tasks, assessing and adjusting often.
Additionally, managers are typically responsible for training new employees along with employees who have been promoted to a new position. They're usually tasked with training their team on new procedures and processes. Regardless of the type of training, effective managers are those who are personally engaged throughout the training process.
Great managers seek ways to incorporate ongoing training throughout the employee's tenure with the company, always motivating and challenging employees to grow their skills. This includes providing constructive feedback, offering encouragement, and performing routine assessments. Managers that are closely engaged with their individual team members will have a strong understanding of where and how they can improve and identify opportunities for further education, training, and development.
What Happens When Managers Don’t Stay Focused On Their Primary Objective
Managers are the position that has their pulse and fingerprints written on the company's day-to-day culture and results. While higher-level leaders can set the vision and strategy, managers are responsible for most of the execution that occurs from the employees.
If employees aren't focused, they can quickly become disengaged, unproductive, and therefore lack in hitting the company goals. In fact, over 60% of workers are unhappy in their work, and often times it can be caused by a lack of company culture, vision, poor communication, listening, or even lack of recognition.
A manager must have very excellent communication skills where they can communicate the strengths and weaknesses of their employee and inspire their team to perform their best on a daily basis. Employees can grow to resent their managers, especially if managers are being overly critical, micromanaging, or failing to recognize their great work. However, if managers lack clarity in their message or fail not to be firm with their policies, employees begin to slack and procrastinate.
Successful Outcomes When Managers Are Focused And Stay Out of Other Level’s Primary Objectives
Managers can help get the best performance out of the employees. Many employees who are responsible for similar tasks daily can quickly become uninterested in their job. Thus, managers who are inspiring and uplifting will help employees give it they're all. Managers can hold their employees accountable for their roles and thereby maximize effort on a daily basis.
The right managers will also identify the right employees for promotion. Growing the company from within is always the easier path to long-term sustainability. It's easy for talented individuals to be persuaded by other companies who may provide more lucrative offers.
Good managers cultivate excellent employee morale, which increases retention by lowering turnover rates. They'll also analyze the performance of their employees and report to the higher-ups about which team members are viable candidates for a raise and promotion.
When These Guidelines Don’t Apply
When managers see that the director's strategies aren't likely to achieve the objective, managers need to take proactive action to ensure success. First, managers should voice their concerns to the director to make sure the manager has addressed all possible variations and efficiency gains. Directors could be too busy in their own roles and may not be able to act in time to help the manager's needs.
If employees are unlikely to achieve their results, managers may consult with directors for a potential strategy shift. Sometimes, the right resources aren't given to employees to maximize their ability. For example, a sales unit without a CRM or continuous training program is more likely to fail than a sales team with those resources.
It's incumbent on the managers to give their honest assessment to directors and executives to explain the "why" of their performance. Whether they're hitting their goals with flying colors or they are failing to hit the mark, they must report back explaining why they achieved the outcomes as reported. That allows directors and executives to make the necessary changes in terms of strategy, training, or even a branding pivot if necessary.
Employees are responsible for carrying out the tasks of the managers. Since they are responsible for all the nitty-gritty work, it's important they treat their job of the utmost importance.
What Employees Should Be Focusing On
Every position is unique in its specific responsibilities, but the employee's role may entail:
- Customer-facing activities to ensure customer happiness, such as customer service, and sales
- Follow the execution orders of managers
- Fulfilling the promises of the job description
- Being adaptable to the company's needs, such as changing roles, tasks, etc.
- Being coachable and willing to accept feedback for improvement
What Happens When Employees Don’t Stay Focused On Their Primary Objective
When employees aren't staying focused on their objective, unfortunately, they are quick to be let go. It's easy to completely fault an employee for lack of results, especially if the employee isn't hitting their expected KPIs.
While there are exceptions to the rule, employees may ultimately take the blame for lack of performance. It's more difficult to fire a more "valuable" member of the company with a leadership position. Talented managers, directors, and executives aren't easy to come by in the marketplace and, therefore, won't be let go as easily unless there are blatant deficiencies.
Of course, it's not always the employee's fault. Sometimes, the training and work environment may not be suitable for the employee. However, it's up to the employees to take responsibility for their job and seek help when needed. This gives them the best chance to perform well and potentially advance their career.
Successful Outcomes When Employees Are Focused And Stay Out of Other Level’s Primary Objectives
When employees successfully execute the tactics, the results will be crystal clear. Employees have a direct effect on the result. For example, a salesperson who has 25 more sales conversations than another sales rep will more than likely get better results. That's also true for a marketer who spends more time studying their competitors and testing campaigns compared to one that doesn't. Employees must ensure they are focused on performing the most high-value tasks in their role and following the strategy laid out by the managers and directors.
When These Guidelines Don’t Apply
When managers aren't providing clear objectives, or they aren't giving enough attention to employees due to their overwhelming responsibilities, employees will need to take it upon themselves to reestablish objective timelines and focus the team to help out. While the employees shouldn't overstep their boundaries, they shouldn't wait for the objective to fall to the waste side before addressing the issue.
Also, if employees feel that managers aren't doing their job or giving them the resources needed, they may have to consult with directors. Directors often have the power to enact change, such as implementing new training programs and moving the employee to a new team or department. Employees should only break the rules if they feel that they are not able to perform their best under the current work conditions.
What to Do If Your Company Doesn’t Have All These Layers
Not every organization will have all the leadership positions mentioned. For example, small to mid-size companies tend not to have director-level leadership positions. Consequently, what would have been the director's duties, now falls on the shoulders of the CEO or other C-level executive. This means CEOs are responsible for developing the goals and strategies to ensure that the managers can properly carry out their tasks.
In even smaller companies such as startups, there might only be a CEO who managers employees directly. Similarly, the CEO must also wear the hats of the director and managers as well. CEOs would have to develop the goals, strategies, and tactics required to achieve the company's objective. One way CEOs can help to relieve some of their responsibilities is to assign their most skilled employee to take on the acting managerial position. While that employee is still responsible for the employee duties, they might be in charge of managing or training new employees.
Use Defined Leadership Roles to Help Achieve Company Alignment
To put this all together, let's recap what we've covered by using Nike as an example from a marketing perspective.
Executive-level - Nike's vision is "bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete." They will set the vision moving forward as well. For example, Nike is planning to become a more sustainable brand by 2025.
Director level - Their objective could be to be the leader in market share for the athletic footwear industry. The strategy might be to come up with meaningful stories, word-of-mouth marketing, and leverage top athletes to promote their products.
Manager level - Managers will need to come up with tactics. They might focus on securing athletes for advertisements and collaborations, join in on customer social conversions, facilitate user-generated content and even build out loyal programs. They'll focus on planning the campaigns, channel, and customer research.
Employee - Employees will carry out the tasks. The employees might respond to social media messages, focus on filming and editing the advertisements, make updates to the website, and other tasks aligned with the tasks set forth by their reporting managers.
You now have a high-level understanding of the leadership positions and how to lead at each level. They all are tied together, and when one isn't aligned, it affects the performance of the entire company.
Leadership starts at the top. It requires executives to develop willing and able leaders in your organizations to make key decisions in their daily roles. Companies that cultivate intrapreneurship often perform better. That's because they can deal with the challenges that arise. They also feel a sense of responsibility since everyone has a shared sense of vision. When everyone cultures a shared vision, mission, and company culture, the company reaches alignment, which usually results in hitting the business objectives.
Do you struggle with leading your business? Or do you need help developing leaders within your organization to make decisions in the daily processes of your operations? Universal Creative Solutions offers operations consulting to help your leaders lead better and develop the processes for smoother alignment in your company.