2 Keys to Being a Successful Leader Instead of a Doer

A production line worker is promoted to line supervisor, yet he is still running the line like the rest of his team.

A department Vice President is still solving day-to-day issues and is drowning in a to-do list that has nothing to do with leading the people in her department.

At every level of the leadership hierarchy, I see it often.  Leaders not leading.  Yes, they are busy doing, but they devote little to no time leading people.   And if they just led more, it would actually shorten their to-do list!

They were stars at their functional roles, so what do they keep doing even when promoted?  The functions that they do well.

If you are making the transition to a leader of people,  or if you are a part of HR trying to help facilitate successful transitions for people to be good at leading people, here are some things that can help equip you/your team to make the transition successfully:

1. Engage in/Provide leadership coaching and training. Pave the way to do this before making the transition to leader if possible. This will help equip you with mindsets and insights to practice before being placed in the role. When seeking someone to help you improve your performance, what should you look for? Here are 4 key things to look for in a coach.

Books: If you are taking the self-directed approach to this, start by picking up some great leadership books.

Classes: Enroll in a leadership classes that focuses on successful leadership principles and practices.  These come from all types of providers and in all types of formats, costs, and time commitments.   For a large organization, your company’s LMS should have a variety of resources and potentially structured, pre-arranged classes.  For smaller organizations, reach out to peer organizations in your community and see what they would recommend.

Coaching: Reach out to a leadership coach internally or externally to arrange regularly scheduled coaching through your transition.   For more on vetting a coach, check out this post.

Mentoring: Seek out someone who is already established as a strong leader of people to meet with regularly. Your natural tendency may be to gravitate towards a mentor that is good at what you are- functional responsibilities. Resist the urge and find a mentor that truly is the best at leading people. We would suggest meeting at least twice a month to begin with and then less frequently as you transition successfully. Read more about mentoring here.

2. Practice Leadership Habits:  There are certain things that almost, if not all leaders do, and that is spend a substantial portion of their time equipping others to be successful. Your calendar should reflect that you are a leader by how you spend your time.  Habits should include:

Regular one-on-ones with each person that reports to you:  These should be scheduled meetings that take place at intervals you feel are most appropriate.  I’ve seen some work effectively as infrequently as quarterly and some occurring weekly in order to be effective.  The frequency most often depends on how much development and guidance the person needs from you.  If you are leading effectively, the amount needed should decrease over time. These meetings should be booked in advanced and only cancelled/rescheduled in an emergency.

Availability to everyone that reports to you:  Meeting the needs of your people should be your first priority (as long as you aren’t equipping them to allow you to be their crutch).   You should pick up the phone when they call or return their call as soon as possible.  You should also be responsive to emails and/or text messages. Going MIA to your reports breeds a feeling of not feeling valued. Be available.

Be a career agent.

And finally, read this post about how to move your goods to greats in order to be a leader


Mary Ila Ward