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Successful Leaders Make This Important Shift: Have You?

As a leader, you may think your job is very straightforward: to get work done. The “work” may be manufacturing a product, delivering services, or finding customers. Nonetheless, your role is to ensure that the “work” gets done in a way that meets quality and timeliness standards.

If only it were that simple! It may be if you were dealing with machinery. But you are not. 

Once you lead, you accomplish the work you are expected to deliver with a group of fellow human beings rather than alone. You are dealing with people at every turn. It takes customers, suppliers, managers, and the team you are leading to get “the work” accomplished. And the thing with humans is that we can be quite the challenge!

Often, one gets promoted into a leadership position because they were really quite good at “getting the work done.” They produced. They had deep technical expertise. They knew the system. They got the job done.

This prior success makes making the leadership shift all the more difficult. For far too often, the skills that enable you to “do the work” well are not sufficient to “lead the work.” 

This shift impacts leaders at all levels:  from team leader or shift supervisor all the way to CEO. 

What is the shift? 

The shift that many leaders struggle to make is understanding that their job now is to create environments where people can do their best work together in the service of fulfilling the purpose of the team. 

Far too often, we’ve taken a mechanistic view of leading others and given short shrift to the more holistic, systems-view of leading. It’s far easier to focus on tasks and outputs. They are more concrete. They are far easier to understand. They are what gets measured. 

But it is how one pulls together a team to accomplish the task that differentiates stellar from mediocre leaders.


Stellar leaders set clear expectations. 

Mediocre leaders expect people to “read their mind.


Stellar leaders ensure their teams have the training they need to be successful. 

Mediocre leaders see training as a waste of productive time.


Stellar leaders ask what people need to be successful and provide it. 

Mediocre leaders blame others if they miss expectations.


Stellar leaders instill a sense of purpose and connect their team to that higher purpose. 

Mediocre leaders say, “That is what they get paid to do.”


Stellar leaders show appreciation and share the credit when things go well. 

Mediocre leaders dole out appreciation as if it was more precious than gold.


Stellar leaders set high standards and hold others accountable for their contributions. 

Mediocre leaders let low performers slide, piling even more on high performers.


Stellar leaders continually challenge people to improve, get better, and master their job. 

Mediocre leaders see problems rather than possibilities.


Stellar leaders know that their job is to create environments where people can do their best work. 

They understand that people do their best work when expectations are clear; they have what they need (training, tools, systems, support), they know why they do it, and they strive to do it in the best way possible.

Stellar leaders take a systems-view of Leadership. They understand that a high-performing team is an integrated web of actions, systems, expectations – rather than only elements, levers, or measures.

They know that no matter how much people want to perform, they can’t if they don’t have the training and the tools.

They know that people can have the training and tools but may lack clarity on what and how to deliver.

Remove any of these elements (training, tools, purpose, appreciation, expectations, accountability, mastery), and you sub-optimize the entire system. Create an environment where they all are present, and the chances are, your team will deliver exceptional results. 

When you make the shift from producing something to creating environments for people to do their best work, you begin to ask questions that point right back at you as the leader. When an individual or a team is failing, the best leaders I know look at their own performance and ask where they have failed. 

  • The worst leaders point fingers, deflect responsibility, and blame others for the results they are getting. The best leaders look to see what was missing – and then fix it
  • The worst focus on mistakes and problems. The best fix the situation, learn from it, and put in place safeguards to avoid repeating it.
  • The best focus on the problem – the worst on the person.
  • The best orchestrate environments that enable people to do good work together – the worst create environments of fear, distrust, and extreme internal competition.
  • The best are “we” oriented. The worst are “me” oriented.

Making this leadership shift happens over time. With support. With learning. With making mistakes and learning from them. With learning from both stellar role models and those who are floundering and then finding your unique leadership style.

Evergreen Leadership’s purpose is to help leaders make the shift! Join us for an Evergreen Leadership: Live! Course if you want to learn how! You’ll be able to improve your leadership skills with high-quality content delivered live (but virtually) at times that fit your schedule. It’s an excellent investment in yourself. Learn more at

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