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The Five Roles of a Great Leader

Taking on the role of leader means wearing many hats. Here are the five that you should learn to wear most comfortably.

It's no secret that leaders today must balance many roles and serve multiple audiences, all while communicating one primary vision. In any given business day, you might serve the role of creative business thinker trying to inspire employees to embrace your vision then morph into an industry sage role helping to advance not only your company but your entire industry. Juggling it all might make you feel like a chameleon.

At a recent conference, I heard Cara Good, owner and president of WunderMarx, a public relations agency in Tustin, California, speak about the confluence of communications styles and leadership. She outlined how a successful leader is, in essence, a business storyteller playing five key roles: futurist, historian, ambassador, analyst and contrarian. I sat down with Good and asked her to explain how mastering these communication roles could aid entrepreneurs today in perfecting their leadership skills.

Patty Vogan: How do you explain how the day-to-day activities of your company help you and your employees achieve your vision?
Cara Good: This is a classic leadership role in which the leader plays the role of futurist defining the expected direction of the company. All your stakeholders--from customers to employees to vendor partners to the media--look to you to impart knowledge on where your organization is headed and how it will get there. It's your CEO perspective that helps people connect the dots between their day-to-day activities and the future direction of the company. And from a media perspective, your vision makes headlines.

Vogan: Why is it important for a leader to reflect on where the company's been?
Good: Just as people want to know where your company's headed, they also want to know where the company's been. In this, leaders are playing the role of historian. You can humanize your business, especially one that's product-driven, by creating strong messages around your company's origins.

Vogan: What communication style do you think is most important to the role of leader?
Good: I believe that serving the role of ambassador is the most important communication style you can adopt as a leader. You're the "face" of your company. It's vital to portray an image during meetings, employee one-on-ones, media interviews and other public events that's congruent with your company's overall vision, mission and values. Think about watching the evening broadcast news: Headline-grabbing CEOs are personable, conversational and charismatic, no matter what the news may be. This is the ultimate leadership role.

Vogan: How can entrepreneurs follow industry trends and stay ahead of the curve?
Good: Leaders are also analysts, that is, they're industry forecasters who are well versed on the trends, opportunities and problems that their industries might face. In any public exchange, they must be ready to answer the question, "Where do you see your industry going over the next year, and what challenges do you anticipate?"

Vogan: As a leader, how can you distinguish yourself from the competition?
Good: One of the most important leadership opportunities is to know what you stand for and be able to communicate it. This helps you distinguish yourself from the competition and provide true leadership--not "me too" copycat management. This sometimes means you'll play the role of contrarian, disagreeing with others because you see the big picture and want to map your day-to-day decisions based on your long-term leadership vision. Take a look at industry issues, economic climates and general business forecasts. Now analyze your opinions on each. Do you agree or disagree? Let people know how you stand, especially if it counters conventional thought.

Patty Vogan is Entrepreneur.com's "Leadership" columnist and owner of Victory Coaching, an executive coaching company for business and personal success, and a chairman for the largest CEO organization in the world, TEC International.

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