Publication Date



This paper sets out to establish and describe a new approach to leadership called Bottom Line Leadership. The essence of Bottom Line Leadership is that a leader’s most critical responsibility is to clearly identify, communicate and gain buy-in for the ultimate bottom-line objective of the organization he/she leads, subject to constraints imposed by the market and by the organization itself. In comparison to other leadership models that focus on the general attributes or behaviors characterizing effective leaders, Bottom Line Leadership emphasizes the link between an organization’s purpose and a leader’s behavior. The philosophy that serves as the foundation for this article stipulates that employees, in any type of organization, need to be crystal clear about the purpose and bottom-line objective of the organization they work for. Having this clarity of objective enables employees to not only understand the importance of an organization’s strategy and mission; it also allows them to make sound decisions in support of the organization’s goals. We believe that it is essential that leaders in organizations instill this clarity of purpose and help create the conditions that allow people to channel their energies into the appropriate activities. What results from our leadership and management research is a “virtuous circle” model coupled with a checklist that prescribes precisely what Bottom-Line Leaders do. To arrive at our model of Bottom-Line Leadership, we review the teachings of some of the most popular leadership and management thought leaders. We conclude that effective leadership actually encompasses both traditional leadership attributes (create / inspire / influence) and traditional management capabilities (deploy / control / execute). In short, what we find is that Bottom-Line Leaders instill clarity of purpose in their organization, gain commitment to the ultimate bottom-line objective, and engage employees in these efforts. They do this by deploying methods of communication, inspiration and motivation that constantly maintain a connection to, and are aligned with, the ultimate bottom-line objective the organization is striving to achieve. They also work tirelessly to ensure that employees are in a position to make decisions and take actions in manners supporting the bottom-line objective. In our view, leaders are those who do the right things right and get their people to do likewise.


Suggested Citation
Fields, G. S. & Stern, C. (2006). Leading for the bottom line: A view of leadership in a bottom-line context (CAHRS Working Paper #06-06). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies.