Directors – Leaders Not Doers


Directors – Leaders, Not Doers – The Importance of Delegating and Empowering Your Team. Many people regard being a director as either a non-job for people who have retired, or are about to, or one that is a matter of need to comply with company law and structure.

Neither are, or at least should be, correct. The board is charged with overseeing the business and so directors carry a significant weight of responsibility. And a well-constructed and active board can add immense value to a business.

Unfortunately, many directors, especially in owner-managed businesses, are in effect little more than ‘Employee #1’, and so wrapped up in doing, rather than leading their businesses. 

So, what is it that directors should be doing, and how do they ensure this?

Firstly, let’s get a few basic issues out of the way:

  • Shareholders in a business are investors – they invest funds for a return, but have no real say over strategy or operations;
  • Board members (Directors) are those charged with providing the oversight of, and strategic guidance to, the management team of the business – they are leaders, not managers;
  • The executive management team is responsible for the day to day operations – in effect, they implement the strategy and run the company on a day-to-day basis.

It’s vital to keep the three different roles very separate in one’s mind. Sometimes, for example, the best course of action for a business may not be as good for shareholders and/or the management team – especially if the company is undergoing difficulties – and an owner-manager in such cases has to be clear which ‘hat’ they’re wearing at any point in time.

As a Director, then it’s clear that the role is very much a leadership one – guiding the company and overseeing the executive management – rather than a hands-on one. Focusing on doing rather than leading is why so many owner-managers find it difficult to create true value in their businesses. For the business is dependent on their presence, so becoming a leader, rather than a doer is not only good for the business, but good for the owner-manager, too.

And the most important thing that leaders learn is the art of delegation. Empowering the team to take action is critical – they might not initially be as effective as the leader in a given task (although they will often surprise one); but they will very quickly become so, thereby freeing the leader for leadership.

This, of course, means building a capable team. True leaders employ people who are capable of taking over and continue to develop them with this in mind – succession planning being a key role of leadership in general and the board in particular. And it’s great for motivation and team morale, too.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team and a culture where people are developed, empowered and encouraged to take responsibility is a strong culture, and the leaders of these businesses see the rewards in accelerated growth, profitability and value.