The Big Picture

Last week, we looked at the people who work for a business. We looked at their relationships with each other and with the business they work for as we explored corporate hierarchy, structure, and human resources.This week, we’ll look at the people in a business from a different perspective – leadership. There are a lot of different definitions for leadership. But in general, the definitions agree that a leader is someone who motivates others to get things done. A person might be a leader based on his or her position in a business, such as CEO or head of a business unit. For this person, leading others is a part of the job description. On the other hand, a person who doesn’t hold an obvious leadership position or title might still emerge as a natural leader based on the way he or she acts and how others respond.

True leaders, either because of their roles or because of who they are, harnesses the skills and talents of others in order to accomplish a goal.Not all leaders are the same. In fact, there are lots of different leadership styles, each of which may be appropriate for different people in different situations. For leaders in management positions, their leadership styles can set the tone for the culture of the entire business: how people work and interact with each other. It makes sense, then, that the human resources team is also responsible for implementing the culture set by the leadership team through the human resources cycle. For example, a business’s leaders may prioritize collaboration as a part of their overall strategy. In that case, the human resources team could support this focus by hiring people who are able to work well with others and enabling workplace structures and reward systems that support collaboration between team members.

One of the most important areas of leadership is creating and taking care of the business’s mission and vision. The mission and vision should be lofty enough to motivate every employee every day, and concrete enough that people know exactly what it is they’re working toward.

Let’s take a look at the Most Important Things that we’ll be focusing on this week

  • A business’s vision and mission express the driving goals of an organization. The mission says what a business is doing to achieve its vision. The vision describes the desired future the business sees if it meets its goals.
  • Leaders find ways to motivate teams to work together to advance the mission and vision of the business. A leadership style encapsulates a leader’s approach to the business and to his or her team.
  • Leaders set the tone at the top in order to build teams and foster a healthy, productive culturethat enables each team member to serve the mission and vision of the business.

At the end of this week, we expect you will be able to apply these insights to your own career.

Why is this important?

“Leadership means going for greatness.” – Ari Weinzweig

Leadership, some might argue, is the most important part of a successful business. Great CEOs are celebrated, not just at their companies but in American culture. Their skills and foresight represent attributes that people – in business or otherwise – hope to emulate. Leaders matter because they act as conductors of an orchestra, making sure that all of the parts are working together to create a beautiful harmony. By crafting a bold vision, defining a clear mission, and effectively planning and executing, they help to give purpose and direction to all parts of the business so they can effectively work together towards the businesses common goals.

Quick Question

Think of a person that you would describe as a great leader. What do you think makes that person a great leader? How do those traits affect the people around that great leader?

How does this connect to the other parts of business?

We’ve talked about lots of pieces of business already: product development, operations, finance, accounting, and more. But those are just pieces. A mission and vision tell employees how each of the pieces fit together and to what end. And the leaders in the organization could be considered the glue. Mission, vision, and leadership are essential to make sure that every employee is on the same page, working efficiently and effectively as a team to achieve the business’s goals. Without the road map of mission and vision, and leaders as the drivers, the team is likely to get lost and never reach its destination.

Now, let’s get started with an Explore Activity to give you an opportunity to jump right into this week’s materials.

Learning to lead

As we learned in this week’s Strayer Talk, the vision and mission of a business are essential to every employee’s understanding of what the whole business is trying to achieve. Making sure everyone is on the same page is essential to the success of the business.

Mission and vision

One of the most important things to understand in business is why you are doing what you’re doing. If you have a purpose you believe in, it’s easier to get up in the morning and get right to work. Mission and vision statements get right to the heart of purpose.

The mission explains what the business does every day. It’s a short, clear, powerful statement of a business’s short-term goals. It should tell people what the business does, who it does it for, and how it does it. A mission tells an organization’s leaders, employees, customers, and the world what this business hopes to do.

On the other hand, the vision talks about the business’s broader aspirations and deeper purpose. The vision describes the optimum future of what the business wants to achieve over time. The vision might share a sense of what the world looks like with the business in it as its most successful version of itself. It can serve as the business’s “North Star”—the guiding motivation for every employee.

Mission and vision are related but distinct. Some say the mission describes the what, the who, and the how of the business, and the vision tells us the why.

For example, McDonald’s has a clear mission:

“Our mission is to be our customer’s favorite place and way to eat and drink. We’re dedicated to being a great place for our people to work; to being a strong, positive presence in your community; and to delivering the quality, service, cleanliness and value our customers have come to expect from the Golden Arches – a symbol that’s trusted around the world.”

This is a great mission statement! It tells McDonald’s employees and customers exactly what they are doing every day—striving to provide its market’s favorite foods. It also says a lot about just how it tries to achieve that mission. McDonald’s wants not only to offer a great customer experience but also to be a great workplace for its employees and to provide a great presence in the community. That’s a well-rounded goal!

McDonald’s also has a well thought-out vision:

“Our overall vision is for McDonald’s to become a modern, progressive burger company delivering a contemporary customer experience. Modern is about getting the brand to where we need to be today and progressive is about doing what it takes to be the McDonald’s our customers will expect tomorrow. To realize this commitment, we are focused on delivering great tasting, high-quality food to our customers and providing a world-class experience that makes them feel welcome and valued.”

This explains more about what drives McDonald’s long-term strategic decision-making: it aims to stay modern and contemporary. All the while, McDonald’s is focused on its core product: burgers and other great-tasting food.

Take a look at a few more examples to learn more about mission and vision.





To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

To establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.

Under Armour (athletic apparel)

Make all athletes better through passion, design, and the relentless pursuit of innovation.

Empower athletes everywhere.


To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.


To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

To provide access to the world’s information in one click.

Unilever (owner of 400 businesses including Dove and Ben & Jerry’s)

To add vitality to life. We meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good and get more out of life.

To make sustainable living commonplace.

Quick Question

Think about how you might apply the concept of mission and vision to yourself and your life. What would your mission be? What would your vision be? How do you make decisions every day that are consistent with your mission and vision?

Who are the leaders?

In any business, there might be just one leader, a handful at the top, or many leaders throughout the organization. It all depends on the size of the business, how it’s organized, and what it’s trying to do. We’ve mentioned that some people are leaders because they have formally defined roles in the organization, and others are leaders because of how they approach their work – no matter where they are found. These are a few of the key roles found in most larger organizations that define the areas where leaders are needed based on the structure of the business:

  • Stakeholders are people who have a vested interest in the business, that is, anyone who is affected by it in some way. This is a broad group of people, and could include community members, customers, policy makers, investors and more. Shareholders are formal owners, such as people who own stock in the business, if the business is a public company.
  • The board of directors oversees the management of the business to safeguard the interests of the shareholders and stakeholders. Often, this means they are working to make sure the business is profitable so that shareholders make money on their investment.
  • C-level executives are the top level of management in the business. They design the business strategy and work to protect and deliver on the mission and vision. The Chief Executive Officer, or CEO, is the head of the business. Companies often have other C-level executives like a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). Are you starting to see why we call this group of individuals C-level executives?
  • Mid-level management includes department or business unit leaders. They ensure that the strategy, mission and vision are carried out at the business unit and department level.
  • Junior management includes supervisors, managers and team leaders. These are the people who manage groups of general employees tasked with completing the basic tasks of the organization.
  • General employees do the basic tasks of the business so that the company can operate.

Management vs. leadership

As you’ve just seen, there are lots of formal leaders and managers in an organization. There can also be lots of leaders who don’t have a clearly defined leadership role. And a business needs both. Managers and leaders are not necessarily the same people. And while leadership and management are related to each other, they have some differences.


Leaders motivate others towards key goals and desired outcomes and can be found anywhere in an organization. Everyone knows the CEO is a leader. But it’s just as likely that a leader is right there on the manufacturing line, motivating the people around him, reminding them of their greater purpose, and helping everyone work more efficiently so that the business makes strides toward its goals.

We all know a person who is an entry level employee, but who motivates others, rallies the team, steps in to help others, and leads by example—even if their job title doesn’t require it. Leaders are needed at all levels of an organization, but it is critical that true leadership is exhibited at the top.


Managers are responsible for planning, organizing, and coordinating people and work efforts. We can tell they are managers based on their titles and the nature of the work they do. They often have “manager,” “supervisor,” or “director” titles and are responsible for the outcomes of projects or departments and lead teams of 2 or more. Not all managers are leaders and not all positions require managers to be leaders. For example, when the most important thing is for the work to simply be done on time and according to specific criteria, managers are needed to oversee the team. Alternatively, when creativity or problem-solving is required and people need to be motivated to do something hard, it is important that a manager also serve as a leader.


Leader-Managers have roles that require them to “manage” others and also exhibit the qualities of leadership that allow them to effectively fulfill their role as a manager. In some cases, managers aren’t effective leaders, which is a risk for the business. In an ideal scenario, managers have the leadership skills necessary for them to go above and beyond the coordination that is required of managers. This allows them to fulfill their managerial role in ways that significantly further the businesses objectives.

Leadership styles

Just as leaders can be found in many places in a business, there are many ways to be a leader— different styles and approaches. The six leadership styles discussed below are one way to look at leadership styles. Each of these styles sends a clear message to the team about how the leader and the team interact. Some leaders adopt one of these styles and use it every time they lead. But more effective leaders master most or all of these styles, evaluate the team and goals at hand, and choose the most appropriate style for the given situation.

A pacesetting leader says to the team, “Do as I do, now.”

The pacesetting leader is a high performer himself, and expects his team to perform with excellence and speed. The leader models the desired behaviors and expects the team to mirror it. This style works well with a highly skilled and motivated team. It can create problems when a team gets overwhelmed, or when more creativity is appropriate.

A visionary leader says to the team, “Come with me.”

The visionary leader sets out a common vision and goal for the team, and invites each individual team member to find his or her way to achieve the necessary tasks. This style works well when a new vision is appropriate and when there is latitude in how a goal may be attained. It can be counter-productive when the group knows more than the leader.

An affiliative leader says to the team, “People come first.”

Focuses first on the team and its emotional needs and the emotional health of the team as a whole. This is an appropriate style in times of stress, when a team needs some extra TLC. This style may not be appropriate when there are many pressing deadlines for a project.

A coaching leader says to the team, “Try this.”

The coaching leader is focused on the team’s professional development and offers team members opportunities to work on developing new skills or improving weaknesses. This style works well when a leader is proficient at many things and can truly help team members improve in various ways. When people are unwilling to learn, this style may not be a good use of time and resources.

A coercive leader says to the team, “Do what I tell you.”

The coercive leader gives rigid instructions and requires total compliance. This can be appropriate when there is an emergency, an extremely short time frame, or some other unusual circumstances. This style should be used sparingly because it tends to make people feel less valuable or important and often causes tension.

A democratic leader says to the team, “What do you think?”

A democratic leader encourages the participation of every team member and uses consensus-based decision-making to make sure every person is on board. This is a great method when the leader has a strong team and their buy-in is important to the goal. It won’t work as well when there is an emergency or the team doesn’t have enough expertise to provide helpful input.

It’s important to note that there isn’t any single leadership style that is always appropriate. Seeking consensus from a team about which way to exit the building during a fire is a terrible idea. But ordering everyone to walk out a certain door without stopping for personal belongings at the end of a regular workday is also a bad idea. By tailoring a leadership style to the particular circumstances, a leader can ensure that the team works together efficiently toward a common goal.

Quick Question

Consider these six leadership styles. Which style of leadership comes most naturally to you? Which style of leadership would be most uncomfortable for you?

Leaders and their teams

Some say leaders are born, not made. But actually, leaders have a set of skills that enable them to be great at motivating others to do great work together. Think of it this way: a person might know early on that she loves music, or that he loves food. But that doesn’t automatically make her a concert pianist or him a Michelin-starred chef. Those careers take training, just like leadership. Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned. And while some might have more skills than others, anyone can improve and become better at leading a team.

Highly effective leaders have several skills in common when they are working with teams to reach objectives. Here are six skills leaders can develop and practice consistently to help a team achieve its goals.

  • Focus the team on the goal. The leader sets and describes a clear goal that everyone on the team understands, and the leader ensures that each team member appreciates his or her potential to contribute to reaching the goal.
  • Encourage the team to work together. The leader provides a forum for open discussions, engages all team members, and ensures that all team members may be heard. The leader invites people to work together and rewards those who do.
  • Build the confidence of each member. The leader focuses on the positive, places trust in the team by sharing responsibility for important tasks, and shows gratitude for a job well done.
  • Provide expertise as needed. The leader is an expert in her own subject area, and provides other experts to help in any other subject areas. The leader provides all information necessary to understand the tasks and goals.
  • Set priorities among tasks. The leader clarifies more important and less important tasks and encourages proper time management among team members.
  • Manage the performance of the team members. The leader gives clear objectives to the team and each member, and helps the members meet and even exceed those objectives by providing ongoing feedback (both positive and constructive) and resolving performance issues as they arise.

By focusing on these six tactics, anyone can lead a team to success. That allows the team to achieve its goal, which is essential for the business, and it also helps the team to feel great about what it’s getting done.

Leadership and culture

Just as leaders and their leadership styles have a big impact on how things get done at work, the culture makes a big difference to the experience of employees every day. Culture refers to the workplace environment—what it looks like, how people talk to each other, even what people care about. Culture is formed by the personalities, values and behavior of the people who work for the business. It’s a reflection of the brand of the business and the industry the business is in.

Some businesses are very formal and tightly regulated. Everyone clocks in and out, wears a uniform, completes rigid tasks, and does not stray from requirements. Other businesses are extremely flexible. People have flexible hours and dress codes and lots of autonomy. Of course, these are the two ends of the spectrum. In fact, there are four major types of business culture on that spectrum. Ranging from bureaucratic and controlling to entrepreneurial and flexible, these four types of culture include:

  • Role culture. There are specialized roles that endure even though people come and go. In a role culture, there are strict systems and procedures that everyone must obey. We see this in government departments.
  • Power culture. A powerful person or group of people are at the center of the business and influence every major decision. This is more common in family-owned businesses.
  • Task culture. People work in teams to focus on completing work on specific projects. The success of the project outweighs the interests of any one individual. This is common for software development companies.
  • Person culture. Individual people work mostly on their own and share in the business’s power and decision-making. Often this is the culture at law and architecture firms.

You can see how the nature of the work influences the type of culture at a business, and the culture has a big impact on how people feel about work. There are lots of other factors that influence culture as well, including some that we’ve already talked about. Whether the business hierarchy is tall or flat affects how people interact with each other. Paul and Ari of Zingerman’s Delicatessen use a flat hierarchy to make sure that people feel comfortable making suggestions and being creative. The corporate structure also says a lot about the culture as well. In a network structure, where people rarely interact in person, the culture will be very different from a traditional functional structure. The business’s brand often permeates the culture. At a business like Nike, employees often care about working out and being fit. And, of course, a leader has a lot to do with the business’s culture. When Steve Jobs ran Apple, employees knew they would be required to work very hard and to be dedicated to creating innovative new products, just like their CEO.

Quick Question

Think of a business you know well. What type of culture does that business have? How do you know?


This week we talked about how people impact the business.

  • Mission and vision are the key drivers of employee motivation and focus—they tell everyone what they’re working toward every day.
  • Leaders and their leadership styles have a big impact on the way people work, how they feel about their work and how effective they are.
  • Culture is a result of numerous factors that are important to craft carefully. A culture says a lot about an organization—and a lot about its employees.

Understanding the people that make up a business and how to help each person be the best at what they do is critical to a business’s success.