First and foremost, as a leader your #1 job is to protect your people. In the Army a platoon leader's job is to keep his people from getting killed while still accomplishing their mission. Your job as a leader is to protect your team from interference, petty BS, and personal politics so your team can focus on succeeding at their mission.
There is nothing that will get me more fired up than having someone mess with my team while we're heads down on a project. Your job as a leader, in the micro or macro context, is to run interference on people who are more focused on their ancillary priorities than helping the team succeed with their mission. Yes, time cards are important, but don't come break into my dev team's quiet productive time to harp about a half hour of mis-billed time. I'll do my job as a leader, grab you by your ear, and have you route that conversation through me at a less intrusive time. (Funny, how "your ear" can be mistyped as "you rear" which fits the context, too.)
This doesn't mean you throw out all things which aren't directly related to your team's goals. Yes, you have to eat your vegetables and fill out your timecard. Yes, those monthly department meetings are mandatory and really can be important. However, as a leader you need to ensure your team has the space they need to get their jobs done. It's your job to prioritize those less-than-essential tasks and schedule them in at sensible times.
As a leader from time to time it's also your job to jump in front of a bus or take a bullet for your team. I once had a couple team members goof on getting something done for a VIP. Said VIP had a huge ego and lousy people skills. Said VIP blew up at my crew, going off into a profane, over-the-top rant on my guys. Unfortunately, I wasn't around when this happened, and it bothers me still to this day that I wasn't able to intercept that lunatic. I did have some words with him after the matter, but the crux was I'd missed my opportunity to have taken that flack, redirected it, and let my guys get on with their jobs.
Your running interference for your team's critical for several reasons. First off, your team can focus on accomplishing their primary goal. Secondly, your team's sense of self-worth grows because they're allowed to get the mission-critical tasks done and see Big Picture Progress. Finally, your stock with your team grows because they know you'll protect them when it's really needed.
Protect your team. That's your job.
(It should be noted that when discussing this topic with my colleagues I often use a phrase that's a little more in the vernacular, something like "Don't f**k with my homies.")
Update: Find links to this series of posts here.