The COO as organisational leader

The most important part of my role as COO is to be an excellent organisational leader.

What is an organisational leader?

Let’s take a step back. What is an organisation?

There are no doubt many definitions out there, but the way I think of an organisation is as an entity, composed of multiple people, with a collective purpose. It therefore follows that for an organisation to be effective, the following must be true:

  • All members of the organisation understand the organisation’s purpose.

  • All members of the organisation are aligned with and inspired by the organisations’s purpose.

  • Each member of the organisation understands their own role and responsibilities in carrying out that purpose.

  • The organisation has a well defined and effective culture.

  • The various roles and responsibilities within the organisation, when taken in sum, are sufficient to carry out the organisation’s purpose.

  • Structures are in place so that initiatives within the organisation are aligned and do not interfere with each other.

  • Information flows through the organisation in a way that ensures that every member of the organisation has the context to do perform their role.

  • Incentives within the organisation are aligned with the carrying out of the organisation’s purpose.

  • Clear protocols and processes exist for efficient execution of common actions within the organisation.

  • Individuals within the organisation are able to achieve their personal professional goals while remaining at the organisation.

…and this is just a partial list. The thing to take away from this is that an organisation is a complex and delicate system, and much needs to happen to ensure that it functions effectively. Without careful design and maintenance, the forces of entropy will tend to conspire to render an organisation inefficient and dysfunctional.

The COO, then, as overall organisational leader, is responsible for the ongoing health and effectiveness of the organisation. At its core, I see the job as one of system design and maintenance. But the COO is designing a system out of people, and that means it requires the exercising of a high degree of emotional intelligence, effective communication, and the ability to care genuinely and simultaneously for both the business and the people who make it run.

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