During the first few days (or even weeks) of a new year, we wrestle with our desire for change and the sense of possibility. We buy courses on goal-setting, scour lists of the best productivity apps, and make long lists of what will be different this year.
I’m beginning this year in a new place. In the middle of last year, I was hired to become the senior leader/CEO of an organization. I’d served on an executive team previously but this year begins with me in the lead chair.
As I look ahead to this year, I’ll be honest. I’ve been overwhelmed at times. I see many places I could start working. I see challenges and opportunities for our organization. When I begin thinking about all of the hats I’ll be wearing this year, the anticipation has the potential to turn into mental exhaustion.
Fourteenth-century French philosopher Jean Buridan constructed a paradox known as Buridan’s Ass, to help explain the perils of free will and abundant choices. In his paradox, a hungry and thirsty donkey is placed equal distance between a bundle of hay and a bucket of water. As Buridan explained, the donkey would likely die of hunger and thirst because there would be no reason for him to choose one resource over the other.
Today, we face the peril of innumerable options too. Our lives (and our leadership) feel like the menu at the Cheesecake Factory. We arrive hungry and within 2 minutes of sitting down, we’re exhausted from the novella-length menu. We don’t have two options like Buridan’s Ass; we have thousands. So, which choices make the most difference? Of all the hats we must wear as leaders, which ones are most important? What can only we do as leaders in our current role?
Important Hats for Leaders to Wear
As I wrestled with this question, I arrived at my own list. I believe these five hats are most essential for me to wear in this new year. I have a hunch they are essential for every leader, especially those who lead teams and organizations.
(For the sake of ease, I gave each hat a C-suite title.)
Chief Encouragement Officer.
I’ve never met anyone who is over-encouraged. Like gas in a car or laundry in a large family, there’s always need to fill up or pile to fold. As all of us know, an encouraging word from your leader can fuel you for weeks. Long after their paychecks are spent, a compliment, thank-you note or moment of public praise can fuel our teams. I once heard Rick Warren, pastor, and best-selling author, say he walks slowly through rooms because “everyone needs a look, a word or a touch.” Whether in person or electronically, our words, looks and physical gestures can change a person’s life.
Chief Reminding Officer.
If Samuel Johnson was right when he said “people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed,” then our job as leaders is to be the Chief Reminding Officers for our organizations. Our people have the tendency to forget who we are, how we do things here, and why our work matters. We have to remind our teams on a daily basis about what matters most. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, once told an audience, “As CEO, my main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” We may get tired of reminding, but our teams need us to do what they cannot.
Chief Visionary Officer.
No one else can fight to protect the vision like the leader. The leader has to help their people see the future and lead them there. As many have said, leaders take people from where they are to where they’ve never been. Many people can manage the day-to-day operations and optimize systems, but only a few can see the future before it arrives and create a path forward. Steve Jobs has achieved legendary status within our culture, not for his people skills or the hugs he offered as he walked through Apple’s offices. Jobs saw what consumers needed before they did and he called people to visions which now seem an inseparable part of our daily lives.
Chief Narrative Officer.
Invariably, on the way to achieving a vision, challenges emerge. In moments of adversity, leaders help shape the narrative their team embraces. As many have said, whoever tells the best story wins. French general Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “leaders define reality and inspire hope.” I recently read about one CEO who emails his team every Friday, interpreting current market conditions and the progress of their company. Leaders must absorb the events impacting their teams and interpret them in order to help move their teams forward.
Chief Fundraising Officer.
The leader has to be attentive to the bottom line and the organization’s financial future in ways their team cannot. These realities look different in the non-profit and for-profit arenas. In the non-profit space, the leader has to be out telling the organization’s story to secure dollars in order to fund the vision. In business, the leader has to have their eye on revenue streams, in order to survive. I was recently listening to a podcast interview where a well-known CEO was consulting a startup founder who didn’t know what her current monthly revenue was. I almost crashed my car as I was listening. How will you stay in business if you don’t have a handle on that number?!
My grandpa, Willis, would’ve turned 96 last week. He passed away in 2014. I can remember visiting him as a child, riding in his Oldsmobile sedan. Willis used to keep several snapback hats in the back window of his car. I think the hats-in-the-back-window was a trend within a certain area of the country for a certain age of people. Who knows when/if the trend will reemerge?!
But this image of hats across the back window came to me as a reminder when I wrote this article. Few of us will get the luxury of wearing only one hat in our leadership. However, we cannot wear two hats at the same time. Yet, we can wear several — the right ones — in the course of a given day, week, or month. And our leadership will make a difference for our teams this year!
Which hats are you supposed to wear this year? How can you wear them well?