Business Leadership Today

The 3 Most Important Roles of a Leader


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

Being a leader means being responsible for many different aspects of an organization. Ultimately, the leader’s greatest responsibility is to succeed in guiding their teams to achieving positive outcomes that help the organization realize its vision. 

There are many different ways leaders reach this end goal, but success will always be contingent upon how well they build influence with their teams and how well they inspire them to work toward the vision. 

There are three important roles leaders play in achieving organizational success.

The three most important roles of a leader are motivator, communicator, and uniter. Leaders motivate their team members to do great work, clearly and consistently communicate expectations and the organization’s cultural norms to them, and unite them with a shared sense of purpose to achieve the vision. 

This article will examine how a leader’s ability to motivate, communicate effectively, and unite their employees with a shared sense of purpose are the most important aspects of a leader’s job. 


We think the most important job of a leader is to inspire their teams to do great work. Yet only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. 

Motivation drives an employee’s success and plays a vital role in employee engagement and employee satisfaction, so leaders should work continuously to create the necessary conditions for their employees to do great work and help them identify and remove obstacles to doing great work . 


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, flexibility, especially where work hours and location are concerned, is a must-have for job seekers. 

Unfortunately, many businesses do not want to forever leave behind the kind of micromanaging that characterized the “old normal” when it comes to flexibility and independence for their employees.

A recent survey of HR managers found that 70% of respondents cited flexibility as a driver of resignations, the most cited cause in the survey.

For many workers who worked remotely during the pandemic, this is the kind of flexibility they’d like to retain going forward. Offering remote and hybrid work options where feasible is a great way to meet an employee’s psychological need for independence.

Many organizations are also experimenting with a four-day work week in response to shifting worker needs. 

According to a Joblist survey, 94% of job seekers in the US are looking for jobs that offer a four-day workweek. The survey also showed that 51% say they can fully do their jobs in 40 hours or fewer per week. Surprisingly, 28% of full-time employees say they would accept a cut in pay in exchange for a four-day workweek.

According to Robert Yuen, the co-founder and CEO of Monograph, employees need more time. Because of this, his company operates on a four-day workweek schedule. 

Yuen says, “A four-day workweek gives employees the space to take care of themselves, providing them space for personal development.” The company launched the four-day workweek in 2019, and, Yuen says, since then, employee satisfaction has reached an all-time high.

This schedule can provide more structure around work, enhance focus, increase productivity, and improve well-being and work/life balance because employees have an extra weekday to handle personal life matters, which can reduce burnout due to stress. 

Increasingly, workers want more flexibility in the form of autonomy. 

Autonomy can mean different things depending on the company. The goal of giving employees autonomy is that it meets an employee’s need to work in more self-directed ways when possible. 

By giving workers the autonomy they crave, you are forging strong, trust-based relationships with your employees and, at the same time, encouraging employees to hold themselves accountable and take ownership of their roles. 

The ideas of flexibility and autonomy have transformed the way we think about work and the value of work/life balance. Finding ways to help employees integrate the two in a way that is beneficial to their well-being will also benefit performance.


A recent Pew Research Center survey found that a lack of opportunities for advancement was among the top reasons US workers quit their jobs last year. 

The survey also found that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has more opportunities for advancement.

Employees need to feel highly competent in the work they do to engage. They also need to feel that they are growing, building experience, and gaining new skills and knowledge. Employees who feel they are continually growing in their roles are more likely to be engaged in their work and more likely to stay.

To keep talented employees, you have to let them know they have a future in the organization. If you expect to keep your employees committed enough to the organization to stay, you have to demonstrate that you are committed enough to them to invest in them.

Offering learning opportunities, as well as a path to advance, can help organizations not only retain employees but also build strong leadership pipelines for the future. 

Leaders should work with employees to help them grow by fostering a culture of learning within their organization. Learning can motivate employees, but it has many other benefits for employees and employers. 

Research compiled by LinkedIn has shown that employees who spend time learning on the job are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more able to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.

Leaders can offer development opportunities to employees in the form of learning, whether through online classes, live training, tuition reimbursement, or activities with professional organizations.

Another way to facilitate employee development is by providing opportunities for workers to cross train within the organization. Cross-training is the practice of training your team members to work in different roles or on tasks that fall outside the range of their normal responsibilities.

It not only improves collaboration, it can also improve understanding between departments, facilitating better performance and productivity and creating more harmonious working environments.

Career-pathing can help employees chart a clear path to management positions, which can significantly boost employee engagement, leading to better retention.

Creating a clear path to growth, development, and advancement for employees shows employees that you want them to succeed. When they feel that you care about and encourage their growth and give them the means to grow, it builds trust and boosts performance. 


Recognition should always be part of the feedback leaders provide to employees. 

Recognition is such a powerful tool for building engagement because it meets a core human need for both the employee and the manager. Recognizing employees for their accomplishments shows them not only that leadership is paying attention, but that they also value the work employees do.

For recognition to be most effective, it should be given often, and it should be specific so employees know the work they do in their roles is seen and appreciated. 

Acknowledging the impact of employees’ work through frequent recognition can be a highly effective way of engaging and retaining them because it improves their employee experience and motivates them to keep doing great work. 


Leaders set the tone for strong communication by being approachable and open to suggestions. Clearly communicating goals, objectives, and expectations provides the clarity all employees need to do their jobs well and with self-confidence.

For communication to be the most effective, it should be honest and respectful, and it should be mutually beneficial. Leaders should be skilled at receiving communications from employees and responding to them in a timely manner, and in a way that makes them feel truly heard. 

Listening is just as, if not more, important. You can schedule regular meetings, coaching sessions, and one-to-one meetings every day, but, if you aren’t actively listening to your employees, these tools will not help them connect to their work. 

To build trust, leaders need to really listen to their employees and respond to what they are saying in the moment to get the most out of their communications. 

Leaders maintain healthy communication by clearly and consistently communicating expectations and cultural norms.


When employees are unsure about what is expected of them in their roles, it creates a situation where they experience conflict on a daily basis about their duties and responsibilities. 

Lack of clarity can lead to issues with engagement, morale, performance, productivity, and retention. In situations where job responsibilities and duties may shift regularly, clarity becomes even more critical to ensuring things run smoothly.

It’s essential for employees to know what is expected of them, have new duties and areas of responsibility clarified for them as situations change, and be made aware that the work they do is seen by leadership.

Clearly communicating expectations, through regular one-to-one conversations, for example, can be a great way to clarify job duties and expectations. 


Communicative leaders build consensus around a shared vision and inspire their teams to work according to this shared vision. Part of a leader’s job is to communicate information about the company’s culture, clearly articulating and modeling the organization’s core values, mission, and vision. 

Glassdoor found that 77% of workers consider a company’s culture before applying. Good organizational cultures are intentional, and good leaders are intentional about communicating organizational culture to their teams. 

Research by McKinsey & Company revealed that 70% of employees feel their sense of purpose is defined by their work. Communicating culture provides clarity for team members about the organization’s expectations of them, both in their daily interactions and the broader scheme of things, and it is crucial to helping employees see deeper meaning in their work. 

A strong organizational culture will provide the meaning employees seek, and leaders help employees recognize this purpose by clearly and consistently communicating the organization’s culture and values to employees and helping them recognize the connections between the work they do and the impact of that work on the lives of others. 

We recently sat down with Dave Gordon, author of TIP: A Simple Strategy to Inspire High Performance and Lasting Success, and discussed the impact leaders can have when they communicate culture and demonstrate values for their teams. 

YouTube video


Employees who find the work they do meaningful are more engaged and less likely to leave. Leaders can and should help their employees find meaning in their work. 

Good leaders unite their team members with a shared sense of purpose that is tied to their work. Leaders connect the dots between an employee’s day-to-day activities and the impact those activities have on the organization and the communities they serve. 

Meaningful work is essential for employee engagement because it gives employees a sense of purpose. They will feel passionate about the work they do and perform their jobs with greater enthusiasm when they find it meaningful.

When employees feel a shared sense of purpose with their co-workers and a strong commitment to an organization’s mission, vision, and values, it doesn’t just improve engagement. It improves morale, performance, trust, and overall job satisfaction.

It’s also a major driver of retention, and it plays an increasingly important role in recruitment efforts. 

A recent study revealed the following statistics:

  • 70% of employees say they would not work for an organization without a strong purpose
  • 60% would take a pay cut to work at a purpose-driven company
  • 90% of employees who work at organizations with a strong sense of purpose say they’re more inspired, motivated, and loyal

Having a sense of purpose and finding meaning in their work can help employees look beyond their daily job duties and see how their work impacts the organization, their co-workers, and the community they serve. 

Having a job where the work one does is purposeful and has a deeper meaning beyond  daily tasks can keep employees motivated. Seeing the impact of the meaningful work they do is just as important for keeping them motivated. 

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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