The 4 Roles of an Influential Leader

What every leader at any level must do at all times to accomplish their goals

Austin Walker
Dec 6, 2019 · 9 min read

hat is the role of a leader? Everyone has their own definition, but think about this. If we don’t know our role, it’s going to be incredibly hard to hit our goal. To be a great leader, it’s important to know the different hats that need to be worn, and to know the four key roles of a leader.

Mark McCloskey has a leadership paradigm he calls the 4R Model. If you want to learn more about it, you can find it here. But..don’t…because it’s a $100+ book. I own it and wouldn’t pay that much for it.

But, McCloskey was one of my professors when I got my Master’s Degree in leadership and his view of the role of a leader has greatly influenced my perspective and paradigm.

McCloskey argues that out of a leader’s virtue flow their responsibilities. Those responsibilities (in and out of the organization) necessitate four key roles. A leader must continually cast vision, make strategy, align the team, and encourage those around him or her. I have taken McCloskey’s model and adjusted it over the years (I just want to give credit where credit was due).

So what is the role of a leader? What are the things you must continually do, in addition to your day to day tasks, to see your team grow, your goals achieved, and your leadership increase?

Keep in mind, these 4 things are continually in play. Some seasons, you’ll do more of one or two, less of one or two. But these are cyclical roles, not a progression. You don’t graduate out of them and onto something else.

As you lead, these roles factor into every day on the job and every situation into which you step.


Photo by Ari He on Unsplash

The first role of the leader is to continually paint a picture of the preferred future. Cast vision. When you think about where you want your organization, team, ministry, or department to be in five years, what does that look like?

You can’t just say, “Bigger and more efficient.” Those are qualities…and unhelpful ones, at that. Painting the future means defining success.

You need to paint a picture. Be descriptive. If you want your branch to be the branch with the highest sales, the vision for your branch isn’t, “Sell more.” The vision for your branch as you communicate it to your team is, “to be the best selling branch in the region so our customers are passionate advocates and our staff are valued problem-solvers for every client.”

A leader’s strategic vision for the organization is pivotal in ensuring clarity and direction for the rest of the process. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s going to be impossible to develop your team to be better at getting there. As a leader, it’s on you to craft the message, communicate it well, and come back to it regularly to hammer it home.

Your painting of the future needs to be:

  1. Clear — Don’t make it too ornate or too vague. You want to be able to communicate it in a sentence or two, without need for explanation.
  2. Compelling — It has to be tied to the “why”. If your vision is clear but no one wants to be a part of it, that doesn’t help.
  3. Communicated — It can’t be sitting on a plaque in the break room, it has to be a living and active part of your staff culture. More on that tomorrow.

Need some help painting the future? Here are some questions you can ask.

  • Why do we do the things we do?
  • Where is the line of acceptable success to celebration-worthy success?
  • Why does it matter if we do this?
  • What is the thing we do that makes us who we are?

You should be able to have one or two sentences that explain where you are heading. For me, I want to see 10,000 leaders over the next 10 years grow in their strengths and their capacity to lead.

It’s clear. It’s compelling (at least to me). If I had staff, it’d be something I repeat to more than just myself regularly.


Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Painting a picture will only accomplish so much if there are no actionable steps behind them. Planning the steps means taking that picture of a preferred future and breaking it down to something actionable.

“Strategy” was originally a military term, and it refers to the process of allocating resources to the most helpful position to gain a competitive advantage.

So as a leader, planning the steps (making the strategy) is the process of allocating your resources (time, finances, personnel, etc.) in a way that will move the organization in the right direction.

For example, let’s say you sold advertising spots in a minor league sports program to small businesses in your metro area. Your “painted future” may involve selling $1,000,000 of ads in 10 years to help small businesses flourish in their community.

That’s great…but not helpful.

How do you plan those steps?

Let’s say an average sale is $340 toward that goal. That means you need 2,942 sales to cross the million-dollar mark.

But, you know that you only get one sale for every 9 calls. That means you need to make 26,478 calls.

If each call averages 23 minutes, that means you are looking at 10150 hours of calls to get there.

If each person makes calls half of their workday (let’s say 1–5 pm), and you have 3 people making calls, you’re looking at 846 days of calls before you cross that threshold.

With 262 workdays in a year, it’s going to take you 39 months to reach your goal. Assuming nothing unordinary happens…you know…for over three years.

If that’s a reasonable expectation, then planning the steps means making sure that each of your salespeople know their call targets, close rate, and weekly goals (more on goals later in the course).

If that’s not a reasonable expectation, planning the steps may mean taking a look at how to get more people calling, how to tighten your close rate, changing your price structure, or how to shorten your pitch.

Planning the steps means taking the vision and making it tangible for your team.

If painting the future is like telling your family about how fun family vacation is going to be, planning the steps involves setting savings goals and planning the drive.

As the leader, you take the big picture and make it organized, clear, and actionable for your team.


Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Now that you know where you’re headed and how to get there, the leader has to make sure “the arrows point in the right direction.”

In corporate speak, this is “alignment.” You need to make sure that you are fostering an environment that pushes commitment to the organization and it’s vision, strategies, and goals. Not only that, but it’s the extent to which people identify with and are emotionally attached to the organization.

Why does vision come first? It’s hard to bring alignment when people don’t want to go where you’re taking them.

It also means looking for and moving toward opportunities for people to accomplish those goals. This is the execution role of a leader. Is everyone on your team actually doing what he or she is supposed to be doing? Are there people out of line or not moving in the right direction? Are YOU moving in the right direction?

Think about this in terms of archery.

Being a leader means looking downrange at the target, taking your people, pointing them in the right direction, bringing the right amount of tension, and letting them do what they do well.

If an archer held onto the arrow, it wouldn’t fly very far, but if the archer didn’t pull and bring tension to the right spots, the arrow wouldn’t go very far, either. At the end of the day, at the very least arrows have to be pointed in the right direction.

Sometimes, a staff member is pushing toward selfish goals and needs to be redirected. It’s the leader’s job to step in and clarify the win. This may mean having a hard conversation and saying, “I feel like you’re putting a lot of effort into X, but our team is about Y. How can we adjust and get on the same page?”

Other times, there may be someone who is doing a lot of work…but not making a lot of progress. Aiming the arrow means having a sit down with him or her, refreshing the vision, reminding them of why their role is important, and putting in practical next steps to move in the right direction.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A leader paints a picture of the preferred future.

A leader puts practical steps in place to make sure the future is attainable.

A leader makes sure every member of the team is putting maximum effort towards reaching the future.

Next, a leader shares the stories that define the win.

When you hear about team members doing something above and beyond, tell people! We are story-people by nature. If you can leverage stories of success and celebrate them together, you highlight the wins and build culture off of that.

The more stories are told that reinforce the win, the more tangible it feels to everyone else, and the more it solidifies as part of your culture.

But if we’re being honest, “sharing stories” seems awkward at best. So what does it look like, regardless of your team size, to share the stories that build your culture?

Here are some thoughts and suggestions.

  • Make a note on One Note or Evernote and keep a running log of stories you hear.
  • Work stories into staff meetings. Yes, this can be awkward, but welcome to leading! Let’s say one of your team comes to you with a story a client shared about how your company made a huge difference in their week. Start your next staff meeting by saying something like, “And before we get started, I know that Whitney met with one of her clients last week, and Whitney, would you share some of the feedback and encouragement they gave?” Let Whitney share, and follow up by saying, “See, that’s it. That’s the win. Whitney, great job going above and beyond to make sure X happened.”
  • Send out surveys to clients or customers and include a few open-ended options to ask how your company has made a difference.
  • Use company-wide emails to include performance highlights shining a light on different wins throughout your team.

One thing I do with my team is an automated posting. We use Slack, and every Thursday via IFTTT and Google Forms, a message posts in a Stories channel that just says, “It’s STORYTIME! If you have a story from the past week, don’t forget to send it here.” and a link to a google form.

Our team can click that, tell what campus location they’re at, unpack the story, and submit. It doesn’t take them long, and over time I have a growing source of stories any time I need to celebrate something.

Your company culture is going to be set by the stories that come out of it…as a leader you need to be setting the tone and the value of those.

There you go. Those are the 4 roles of a leader.

A leader paints a picture of the future, puts the steps in place to get there, aims the arrows where they go, and tells stories about the wins.

Now it’s time to think through these roles, evaluate where you’re lacking, and work on getting all four roles firing to their maximum potential.

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Austin Walker

Written by

Husband & Dad || Masters in Leadership | FREE Masterclass:

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

Austin Walker

Written by

Husband & Dad || Masters in Leadership | FREE Masterclass:

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +800K followers.

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