5 Ways to Shift From Doing to Leading

To become a leader, there is a series of key shifts in mindset and behavior so you can show up ready to lead, influence, and make a bigger impact than you can make alone.

This shift from doing to leading is one of the trickiest, stickiest shifts to make in a career, but one that’s absolutely necessary if you want to launch yourself beyond where you are today.

I’ve broken the process down into five key shifts in mindset and behavior.

1. Tactician to strategist
2. Doing to delegating
3. Optimizer to transformer
4. Order taker to rule breaker
5. “Me” to “we”


“You need to be more strategic” is feedback many leaders—aspiring, new, and seasoned—often hear. Have you ever stopped to wonder what it really means?

Ellie Humphrey has. She’s vice president of enterprise excellence and business transformation at Medtronic, but in a previous role, she was responsible for global strategy. So how does a seasoned strategist define strategy? Humphrey says, “Strategy is a fancy word for coming up with a long-term plan and putting it into action.”

This matters because being strategic is one of the critical competencies that allow someone with raw potential to develop into a competent leader.

Let’s face it, there’s something really gratifying about checking tasks off a to-do list. Your boss hands you a project to execute or a problem to solve, and in the completion comes a degree of reward and satisfaction. It’s immediately gratifying, but if you aspire to play big and expand your influence, you’ll need to think and act more strategically.


“The most successful leaders don’t try to do it all,” says Alice Katwan. After taking her first director-level sales role, Katwan’s life became a lot more complex and chaotic. The breaking point came when her health took a nosedive.

Katwan had to learn to delegate at work. Even if you don’t have direct reports, there are other practical ways to achieve the same end, such as trading tasks with a peer whose strengths complement yours, showing your boss a business case to bring in a contractor or intern, or buying software to automate tasks. And start practicing developmental delegating. Find an up-and-comer in your organization for whom a task maps to the next step in that person’s development. Your mentee gets a challenging skill-building assignment, while you get to step up to making a bigger impact. You also get to flex a leadership muscle by serving as a mentor.

As you advance in your career and take ownership of larger projects, it becomes increasingly difficult to juggle additional responsibilities and maintain the quality of your work. “In the long run,” says Katwan, “delegating will save you time and allow you to focus on the bigger picture.”


One reliable way to stand out as a high performer, especially early in your career, is to be an optimizer—a person who improves any role, process, or task she or he is handed. The best optimizers are on an unstoppable quest for enhancements, whether developing or streamlining a process, reducing a budget, speeding up execution, or enhancing productivity. But if you want to make a larger impact, stop scouring for incremental improvements and instead go in pursuit of groundbreaking change that can’t be undone.

Early in her career, Leila Pourhashemi was a program manager and consummate optimizer who delivered all of these outcomes and more.

But eventually, her determination to make a bigger impact enticed her to look beyond the bounds of her immediate role and became a force for betterment across an entire organization. Pourhashemi, now vice president of business operations with Ancestry, shifted from optimizer to transformer.

In a role with a previous company, Pourhashemi was charged with leading an audacious initiative: to change the way 5,000 employees worked so that they would become more customer focused, so that they, in turn, could transform the way the citizens of the world use money. The results? Within 18 months, there was a 55 percent boost in productivity and a tenfold increase in product releases.

Pourhashemi pulled off this tectonic shift with the help of a small team and very little positional power. It all came down to her ability to influence.


“You can’t leave your career when you’re at your height—it will derail you.” That was the unwritten rule of career advancement at a company where Holly Meidl worked early in her career.

Meidl left that company to care for her young family. While being active in her children’s schools and the local community, she learned about grassroots leadership and collaborative influence. When Meidl reentered the workforce, those lessons helped her leapfrog to a national leadership role at a previous company. Now, vice president of risk services for Ascension, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in the United States, she’s living proof that it can pay to break rules.

Taking orders from your boss, doing only what you’re told, and never coloring outside the lines of your job description will earn you credit as a good team player, but it won’t catapult you further. For that, you need to shift from order taker to rule breaker.

Rule breaking is not a blatant disregard for the “rules” but rather, the intentional act of choosing a path other than the one you’ve been traveling. It’s about doing things differently to find a better way. If you keep a positive attitude, even if you fail, every risk you take brings an opportunity to learn.

5. “ME” TO “WE”

When you’re a high performer, enthusiastically stepping up to lead, it’s easy to come off as the smartest person in the room. You try to bring the best ideas and set high standards for yourself. No one can doubt your commitment or work ethic. But is this how team performance is unleashed? Not necessarily.

You don’t need to be brilliant to bring out the best in everyone around you. Instead, be a “force multiplier,” someone whose presence in a group is a catalyst for elevating collective performance.

When you shift your attention from your own success to what makes your team or organization successful and train yourself to derive more satisfaction from collective wins than personal ones, you can start to have an impact and influence that reaches beyond your role. This shift in mindset goes to the heart of what it means to be a leader.

When you move your mindset from “me” to “we,” everything changes. “If you aspire to lead boldly and courageously, this is the most powerful shift you can make. There’s no doubt about it,” says Pamela Stewart, senior vice president of national retail sales with Coca-Cola.

This article was published in HR People + Strategy on December 19, 2019.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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