Mel Savage Executive Coaching
Leading a Team

The Real Job of a Leader

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The Real Job of a Leader
The job of a leader is completely different than the job you were doing before you became a leader. I figured it out the hard way. You don’t have to.

I had a multi-six-figure job in senior management at McDonald’s corporation. A dream job for many people, and for a woman who wasn’t able to finish her degree, it was a feat many people thought I’d never achieve (but I always knew I would).

And then at 47, I decide to start an entirely new career. And I moved from the city to the country.

Plus, I decided to be an entrepreneur vs. work for someone else. And if that wasn’t enough, I decide to create an online business… isolated…. from my front room vs. being around people all the time (this was pre-COVID).

At the time, the idea of quitting my corporate gig and working from anywhere sounded sexy and exactly what I needed. But when I look back, it was clear I was running away.

I mean, who creates THAT much change in their life all at once if they don’t have to? Someone overwhelmed. Ironic right … that someone overwhelmed overwhelms herself with more change??? More on that another time.

It took me a good 24 months to get my shit together, get settled, and get any traction in my business. And the reason was, I was going through an identity crisis.

I didn’t realize it, but I was having a hard time stepping into the executive coach/entrepreneur version of myself because I hadn’t let go of the corporate executive/working for someone else version of myself.

(btw – the practice of coaching was the thing that got me through it all)

And as I was going through this process I realized the other big identity shift in my life was when I officially took on the job of a leader in my corporate career.

Again, I didn’t realize it was an identity shift at the time, but it absolutely was. I had a hard time stepping into the leadership version of myself because I was still relying on the individual contributor version of myself.

It’s so common. I see this all the time with my clients who struggle as people leaders.

Think about it. Before you became a leader, you were valued for knowing all the details, pumping out great work, saying yes to everything, and finding solutions to any problem.

But that’s not the job of a leader. And the mistake most new (and not so new) leaders make is they continue to lean on the strategies that made them successful in their former identity.

  • Work even more hours and take on even more projects
  • Try to know all the details of *all* the work on your team just in case anyone asks.
  • Say yes to everything because you want to prove yourself and be valued.
  • Do a lot of the work yourself so you are still valued as a hero.

Talk about overwhelming, right?

You’re living your old identity while trying to navigate your new leadership identity.

So I’m going to do what I wish someone had done for me when I took on the job of a leader. I’m going to tell you what your new job actually is.
Your pre-leader role was all about doing. Your new role is all about thinking.

I touched on this a little bit in last week’s post. Your job now is NOT to help people DO. Your role as a leader is to help people THINK.

You’re not the go-to person anymore.

You’re now the go-to person for the go-to people.

The role of a leader is to drive results by using your own experience to help people get the information they need and find their own answers and solve their own problems.

OK … that’s a very long way of saying… A leader’s job is to teach people to think.

Yes, you need to understand the objectives of the business.

Yes, you have to build strong relationships across the organization and be a visionary and thought leader and deliver results…

All the things… There are a lot of aspects to being a leader.

But when it comes to your people… your job isn’t to get the work done.  It’s to teach people to think.

Your job is to grow critical thinkers who learn to handle more and more work without your input.

And if you haven’t been doing that, it’s probably because you haven’t heard it framed that way before.

But now you know.

So just knowing that… if “helping people think” was your filter for leadership… what would change how you prioritize your day?

As an example, next time one of your people catches you on the way to a meeting and says “Hey boss, the supply chain says we have to move our product launch because some widget is on backorder… what should we do?” what’s the leadership move?

Do you tell them how to handle it?

Or do you stop and take the time to help them think through it?

I know which one is faster at the moment, but that doesn’t make it the right leadership move.

You giving your people the answer makes your brain smarter. And your job is to make their brain smarter.

And I get it… believe me.

I often took the fast path at the moment because I was trying to fit it all in. But the fast path always came back to bite me in the ass.

First, because it often wasn’t a well-thought-out solution, but mostly because my team became dependent on me.

I wasn’t growing their capacity to think.

When they needed an answer, they asked me. And even if they felt like they had a solution, they’d still defer to me.

And that’s not the job of a leader.

The actual job of a leader is to stop, and make time to help your people think through the problem, come up with solutions and anticipate issues.

And I’m not saying you have to skip the meeting you were going to (unless you can), but you can switch up your day to make time for your people.

The benefit of this approach is;

  1. You don’t have to have all the answers to all the problems. What a relief!
  2. Your report gets smarter, feels more empowered, and appreciates you for helping them think through it
  3. Your team increases its capacity to think and deliver results with less and less involvement from you.

And that leaves you time to take on more and more senior opportunities! Or maybe even have a personal life from time to time.

So let me leave you with this…

When you take on the job of a leader, your job isn’t to tell people what to do. It’s to teach people how to think.

Your growth is no longer functional (you already know how to do the work). Your growth is now emotional.

And yes, this can be very a very uncomfortable transition because you’re learning a whole new skill set while you’re taking on a brand new role, with all new parameters for success (and usually without many good role models).

But so what.

My advice is to get the support you need through this identity shift and remember… becoming the leader you want to be is just another problem to be solved. And you’re already a master problem solver.


I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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The job of a leader is completely different than the job you were doing before you became a leader. I figured it out the hard way. You don’t have to.
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