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How to Become a Leader – Moving from a Doer to a Leader

There are things in our lives that bug us, but we put up with them.  They’re often little things like a burned out light bulb or a messy drawer in which we dump stuff that doesn’t have a real home. Maybe the bulb has been out or the drawer has been a mess for so long that we no longer even notice it.

Our workplace isn’t any different. There are things in your organization you’re tolerating. Perhaps a process or software is inefficient, but you don’t say anything to the people in your organization who can do something about it. Or maybe you said something a few times, but you didn’t feel anyone listened and you gave up.

Organizations are comprised of doers and leaders.  And organizations need both. If everyone wants to lead, you’ll have trouble. If no one leads, you’ll have even more trouble. Doers keep things going from day-to-day.  Leaders create opportunities, fix problems, and upgrade existing conditions.

I’m often asked to coach managers in organizations. The coachees’ boss tells me, “He’s a great employee.  But if he wants to move up in this organization, he needs to be a leader.”  And more often than not, the employee is confused by what the manager wants. Coachees say things like, “I give my opinion in meetings.  I volunteer for stuff. What else does my boss want?”

I tell my coachees the most straightforward thing I know to transition from a doer to a leader –improve processes and look for opportunities to fix things that are broken.

How to Become a Leader

Want to know how to become a leader in an organization? Ask these questions regularly:

  • What in the organization frustrates people? What could we do differently to ease people’s frustration?
  • Where do we have mediocre results? What’s the breakdown?
  • Where are we wasting money? Where are our costs too high? Where are we losing revenue?
  • What processes take longer than they need to? Or where is there a lack of process?
  • Where do we have inefficiencies and redundancies?
  • What practices work in one department that could work in another?

Leaders in organizations are always looking for ways to make things better. They look for opportunities and (picking their battles) pursue solutions. Pursuing a potential change does not mean asking your boss or department leader once or twice.  It means telling someone in a position of formal authority about a missed opportunity, asking permission to make a change, and then doing the work required to make it happen. Leaders do not tell their boss about a problem and walk away. Leaders suggest and implement a solution.



Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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6 Responses to “How to Become a Leader – Moving from a Doer to a Leader”

  1. Randy says:

    Hi Shari:

    I agree with the article wholeheartedly. However, I recenlty found myself between a rock and a hard place with my boss while in a leadership role. I became so bogged down with the day to day activities of running the department (it was a one man show) that I could not get above it to figure out what to do better, more efficient, etc. I told my boss of my struggles and was told I could have no help “it is a one person department” I eventually left the boss, and while in transition, I could think of many ways to streamline process to make thinks more manageable. What would your advice be to someone in a role (supposed to be leading) but micromanaged, and not given any leeway to solve problems? Thanks, Randy

    • shari says:

      Hi Randy,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you’re in a difficult spot. I hope it gets better! Shari

      • shari says:

        Randy, I just re-read your comment. Working with someone who doesn’t give you the latitude to do your job is hard! I see micromanagement – the need to be deeply in the know about what’s going on — as a form of an objection. If you find yourself in this situation again, I’d try to get to the root of why the person needs so much information. What is s/he uncomfortable with? If you can find out what the person needs data and control-wise to feel comfortable, you can give it to him/her before s/he asks. Don’t make a controlling boss ask for things. Anticipate what s/he wants (by asking what s/he wants in advance) and giving it to him/her. This will give the person a greater sense of control and you might, in turn, get more freedom. If that doesn’t work, you may have to be more candid and tell your boss that you don’t feel you have the latitude to do your job and make specific requests for what you need. That will be a difficult conversation, but if the situation is going to drive you from the organization, you have little to lose and it’s worth having. I hope that helps! Shari

  2. Joe says:

    Shari- You make a really great point about leaders. Specifically, they ASSESS circumstances , ADVISE the top management of the circumstances and provide RECOMMENDATIONS/ fixes for the problem(s) and then they IMPLEMENT. One key ingredient as to an initiative’s success or failure, IMHO, is for leaders to have taken the time to “prime the pump.” Say for example there are to be workflow/ organizational changes necessary for the company to continue prospering. Rather than the “company” simply waiting and launching into a company wide meeting, what may work better is to give the employees a chance to get the message early. The company could for example offer training on the subject of “change management.” Following such a process will generally serve to alert employees that things will not continue to be “the same old way(s).” This approach is up front and those who “want to catch on and stay on board,” they will be energized and ready to roll.

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