Skip to content

Leadership Q&A: Too Many Hats or Just One Big One

Leaders have to wear many hats in their varied roles in an organization. Greek philosopher Archilochus said that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”* The saying is an appeal to be focused on the one thing that is important rather than divided into too many directions. This is the real issue of wearing too many hats.


A friend recently described to me his management hat rack.

“The recession has created a lot of stress within our company. As the president of the company, I’m an employee, a sales producer, a manager and an owner as a member of the family.  It is not always clear which hat I’m suppose to wear from moment to moment.”

Here’s my response to him.

Effective leaders learn to function in different roles, almost different identities, while leading organizations. Each role has a purpose and a set of responsibilities that contribute to the success of the organization. Managing these roles is one of the keys to effective leadership.

The complexity of our differing roles creates ambiguity. Ambiguity creates doubt and hesitation to act.  It is a natural part of every organization. We can’t get rid of the ambiguity. However, we can see that the ambiguity creates strength when it represents the rich resources of talent and passion of the people within the organization. In other words, the different roles in our organizations are a competitive advantage that the best leaders understand how to utilize.

With this perspective in view, here are three thoughts about your situation.

1. You are the president first and foremost. All other roles are valuable, but secondary. Do not try to nuance the differing roles that you have. Be the leader. It can be a lonely position. The full weight of the expectation for the company’s success is placed on you by both the owners and the employees. You cannot simply think of yourself as an employee who is primarily concerned with their own position within the company. You cannot think just as a owner who is focused on a return for his or her investment. Your job is to see the big picture, understand how all these roles function within the context of the company’s business goals, and make daily decisions that carry the company forward.  You must do this in a manner that builds confidence and invites commitment to the company’s future success. It is both hard and rewarding. Being the president is your primary role in the company. It is the mindset that you take into virtually every encounter with owners and employees.

2. Manage people in the role they are hired to perform. Everyone who works in an organization finds that their business and personal roles conflict at times. When managing people make sure in your encounters with them that their role within the company is the primary focus. Treat their personal issues within the context of the role in the company.  Hard decisions come with the president’s role. Sometimes your decision will benefit the company, and other times the employee. Being able to understand the context of the differing roles of employees helps to make for a clearer perspective for the decisions that have to be made. It allows you to be more flexible while still keeping the company’s interest first.

3. Create a unifying ideology to lead the company. Often the roles confusion issue is an indicator that the company lacks an unifying sense of mission. A business is more than products, services and processes. It is more than owners, employees, customers, long range plans, and balance sheets. A unifying ideology incorporates the connecting ideas of the company’s mission, values and vision. Each idea is different and serves to unite people with a common purpose. Leading with a unifying ideology elevates each person’s understanding of their participation and contribution to the fulfillment of the company’s mission. It provides that conceptual context that provides perspective for the differing roles that each person has. These ideas need to be clear, concrete and practical for them to be recognized as the ideas that unite the company together.

Underlying the issue of hats and roles is the personal challenge that leaders have to live into the role of leader. This is hard for many who find the role of leader a lonely one. The phrase, “Its lonely at the top” is true. To lead requires a level of maturity that grants perspective and understanding about the leader’s role. Many do not live into it because of a lack of mental and emotional resiliency.  Role confusion is often seen in how leaders take criticism and rejection as a personal statement. Even if it is a personal attack, reacting in kind is not a luxury that leaders can indulge.   Authentic leadership requires you to understand how to be your true self while accepting the role requirements of being the company’s president.

You are the senior executive of your family’s business. You have only one hat to wear. Wear it well for it is symbolic of the full range of opportunities  for businesses to achieve success for owners and employees.

*Jim Collins is the most recent commentator on this saying. Read his The Hedgehog Concept.

Photo: Semihundido –

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

Be Sociable, Share!

Posted in General Leadership, Leadership Q + A.

Tagged with , , , , , , .