Rethinking Your Leadership: Being a glacier not a firework

Jul 03, 2024

Have you ever stopped to think if you're truly making a difference in your leadership role? We all like to think we are, but what if we could do even more without working harder?

I know it’s easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of tasks, deliverables, and efficiency metrics. But are these really the metrics that matter? Recently, I was part of a panel discussion, and the recurring theme was the tension between being constantly busy and striving to be more effective.

The Conventional Wisdom: More Tasks = More Success is wrong

The conventional wisdom in leadership often centres around efficiency and task completion. Managers are trained to believe that being busy equates to being productive. The more you do, the more you achieve. This mindset is ingrained from the very beginning of our careers. However, this approach is fundamentally flawed when it comes to true leadership.

Traditional leadership training emphasizes delivering results through task management, but this narrow focus can lead to burnout and disengagement. According to research by Effectory, only 53% of leaders are clear on their roles. This lack of clarity leads many leaders to continue operating as they did in their previous roles, focusing on tasks rather than the broader picture of leadership and the impact and outcomes they create.

Signs you need to challenge your current approach:

Are you still doing the job you used to have, or worse, one of your team members now has? Do you handle most tasks yourself, reply to every email immediately, and attend every meeting? This might make you feel productive, but it often leads to burnout and a lack of strategic focus. Your team feels undervalued, and you become overburdened. You log back into work after dinner, cancel plans to meet deadlines, and respond to work messages at all hours. The consequence? You become resentful, and your productivity declines.

The Firework vs. Glacier Analogy

Consider the difference between the short-lived spectacle of a firework and the lasting impact of a glacier. Fireworks are dazzling, capturing our attention with their immediate brilliance. They light up the sky for a moment, and then they’re gone. A glacier, on the other hand, is unstoppable and reshapes entire landscapes over time. Its impact is profound and enduring.

In the context of leadership, many managers are like fireworks. They focus on immediate tasks, creating short-term visibility and results. This is normally what got them promoted. However, these results are often fleeting and fail to create lasting value as a senior leader. High-performance leaders, on the other hand, are like glaciers. They focus on impact and outcomes from the work they choose to do; creating lasting change and value that endures.

The Core Foci: Impact and Outcome

To transition from a task-oriented manager to a high-performance leader, it’s crucial to shift your focus from what you tick off your list, to the impact and outcomes of your actions.

Impact is about maximising the effects of your actions on your organisation, team, and community. It’s about making a difference that extends beyond immediate results. Leaders who prioritise impact are strategic thinkers. They consider how their decisions will shape the future, not just the present. 

For example, whilst working with a technology company, my client was creating a new strategy. They did what most leaders do and articulated a vision. The Impact difference was helping them determine how to inspire collective commitment from their stakeholders. Too many people put together a strategy which becomes another file on the shelf. By showing how specific roles contributed to the larger purpose, and generating a sense of ownership and motivation, they significantly increased the impact of their strategy.

Outcome refers to the tangible and measurable results of your efforts on your operating environment. It’s not enough to set goals; leaders must ensure these goals translate into actual, positive outcomes that people can wrap their minds around and become part of. We helped our client develop a detailed plan with monthly performance metrics, regular feedback loops, and quarterly strategy adjustment sessions to ensure alignment with the vision and to address any emerging challenges promptly. This helped them stay across the shift in the landscape versus dealing with small speedbumps. 

Specifics: Making the Shift

Moving from task management to strategic leadership means shifting focus:

  • From What do I need to achieve to What is the most important thing to be done and why?
  • From Achieve today to Long-Term Impact
  • From Efficiency to Effectiveness
  • From Productivity to Purpose and Value 

Reflect and Reevaluate

Take a moment to reflect on your current approach to leadership. Are you focusing on tasks at the expense of impact and outcomes? Are you like a firework, creating short-term visibility but lacking lasting value, or are you striving to be a glacier, creating profound and enduring impact?

The Path Forward

To become a high-performance leader, it’s essential to shift your mindset from task completion to impact and outcome. This transition requires strategic thinking, empowerment, and a focus on long-term goals. By embracing this approach, you can create lasting value for your organization and drive meaningful change.


If you enjoyed this blog, here are a few ways we can connect:

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