One Shift You Must Make If You Are Ever Going To Lead Others

One Shift You Must Make If You Are Ever Going To Lead Others
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

Why is it that some of the most talented people, the go-getters, the get-it-done-ers, the people loaded for bear with talent, struggle to lead other people?

They are really good at something–sales, programming, design, finances–and so they are entrusted with leading others to also do that good thing.  But some rise up to the occasion to lead a team while others return down to just keep doing that good thing they were doing. 


Because people, ESPECIALLY younger people with great talent, face a shift that they will need to make.  

And not everyone can make it.

I often see this when a younger person, generally in their early 30’s, is given leadership.  Say they are a talented sales agent, and are promoted to lead a team.  Or they are a skilled graphic designer, and they are given responsibility over the whole graphic design department.

Some succeed.  But others struggle.  

What is that shift?

Leaders learn to shift from doing the thing to equipping others to do the thing.

They stop measuring success by their output, to what they are able to get out of putting others in position to win.

Story time:  My wife is a high achiever.  She gets it done.  Tell her she can’t do it, and that guarantees she will (I’ve tried telling her she can’t mow our lawn, but she didn't fall for that one).

And so when she joined her company 18 years ago, she quickly rose through the ranks.  Within 6 months she had surpassed my salary and was on her way to building a team and reaching the next level.

And she got stuck there at that level for years.

What happened?  

She had not yet made the shift.

She was still running on her own power.  She was going to willpower her way to the top and bring anyone who wanted to along with her.

But thankfully, she was in a company with one of the strongest leadership cultures in the world.  And she began to understand that for her to succeed, she would have to make that shift.

So she set a new bar for herself and her success.  Success was not about what she could do, but how she could equip, encourage, and empower her team to do.

This shift began to deepen her bench and raise up her team.  Today she is among the top 1% of income earners in her company.

And she realized that the way she was leading was actually counterproductive.  

People on her team looked at how she led and attributed her success to her skills, her talents, her willpower.  They felt they lacked those and so did not see a path to follow in her footsteps.  Success seemed narrow–limited to people wired like Jessica.

As I said, this shift begins to present itself around 30 years old.  It seems this is a point where you begin to get enough expertise and skill under your belt to be noticed, and given opportunity.  And it is here in the early 30’s where the decision to shift–or not to shift–begins to be exposed.  

We can usually tell by mid-30s if you have shifted or not.

So why don’t some people make that shift?

  • We have to rely on some new and untreated people skills, and that’s uncomfortable
  • We can’t control others like we can ourselves, and that’s hard for some people.
  • We think the title or position makes us leaders, so we get lazy when it comes to learning how to influence others..
  • We are unwilling to lead ourselves to grow into a different skill set..

So how do you begin to make that shift? Four Steps to “The Shift”

First, stop doing for others what they can and should do for themselves.

This means identifying areas where you are doing things you CAN do (your talent and abilities) but SHOULD not do (not on your plate, someone else could do it at 85% of the level you could).

Second, Redefine success.  

When you are called up to a larger leadership table, you will be evaluated not on what you did, but what you led your team to do.  

  • This means learning–really becoming a student of–how to lead people.
  • This means grasping that the true test of a leader is what happens when she walks out of the room.
  • This means not seeking reward in what you can do to what you can encourage, equip and empower others to do.
  • This means being willing to face failure…especially failure that feels like it was out of your control.

Third, Chase influence, not position.  

Check out Six Steps to Gaining Influence on Your Team.

Finally, if you are leading someone who needs to make this shift, you will need to become best friends with two words: CLARITY and COURAGE.

  • You must give them CLARITY around redefining success.  Get clear on what success in this organization looks like.
  • Then, you must give them COURAGE to tell them where they currently are.

Joan, for you to succeed here, we need you to be doing X (CLARITY).  Currently, you are at Y (COURAGE).  How can we begin to close that gap between X and Y?

BTW, it is not bad to admit that you don't WANT to lead.  Many successful people enjoy their lives working solo, or for a team.  You can be a great realtor, graphic designer, artist, small business owner without having to lead a large team of people.

But if you want to lead others, you have to shift how you lead yourself.

Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next in their lives, leadership, and teams.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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