A Day in the Life of a High Impact Leader

By Les Wallace, PhD

Assuming you’re displaying the behavior and competencies typically considered to be “leadership” oriented, you may still need to find a way to stay out of the mire and accelerate your impact. To some extent even the best leaders fall into a trough now and then and must find a way to re-energize and re-focus. Let’s take a look at a day in the life of a high impact legacy leader and see the key strategies in which they appear to invest.


They arrive at work every day absolutely clear on the strategic transformation at which their organization must be successful. Eighty per cent of their day is focused on the vital few priorities necessary to move the transformation agenda forward: communicating rationale, celebrating short term wins, empowering coalitions of other leaders to keep moving. The day-to-day issues they know will evolve from some urgency or hiccup that might need their hand draws the other twenty per cent of the day. However, because they have created leaders at all levels these exigencies are becoming fewer and farther between.

Busy is the enemy of accomplishment.

Having too many priorities is common among high performers because we feel we can cover more ground than the average person. However, high impact leaders accelerate their impact—knowing they have the right priorities in the first place—by limiting their targets and focusing on the vital few three-to five key strategies. The 12-hour day and 80-hour workweek is not the answer. Why? An exhausted leader is a less effective leader, family partner, and community member. By narrowing the field of impact, and then actually accomplishing something, leaders give hope, demonstrate movement, and energize others. Get over the 20th Century guilt trip of having a busy overcommitted list of priorities.

Jim Collins discovered in Good to Great that Level Five leaders make time to focus by regularly culling their commitments. Time is a leader’s one finite resource: we can’t manufacture more. About once a quarter, high impact leaders looks over commitments they’ve made and give up some. Cutting one unnecessary meeting a week allows reinvesting that time into energy around the vital few. How might you determine your “vital few?” Answer this question: If you could only be in the office or have contact with your team for two hours a day for the next month, upon what priorities would you focus that effort? There’s your vital few!

Relationship Capital.

People, not plans, deliver outcomes. Trust, encouragement, appreciation, coaching, and information are the raw materials of human effort. High impact leaders recognize this and understand that part of their vital few commitments must be out and about investing in this human capital.

Leaders don’t lord over their team associates to manage effort, they create availability in order to find opportunities to keep passion high and course corrections timely. How much of your time do you commit to being live in the bullpen where the action is—not to manage, but to invest in relationships? Amazing communication opportunities arise when high impact leaders move among teams throughout the organization reinforcing focus and showing interest in their efforts.

Developing trust in top leadership of the organization is a hands-on investment. People need to see the “person behind the position.” High impact leaders are open about who they are, where they see the organization going, and invest in hearing out people’s questions, fears, and ideas. Let’s see: 85 percent of an in-office 55 hour work week is 44 hours, and 10 percent devoted to “leadership by walking around” is almost five hours a week.

Develop Others.

Developing others gives one of the highest returns on investment of all the leadership behaviors. This is not training nor providing training. Showing an earnest interest in helping people grow, expressing appreciation in their learning and accomplishments, and helping them find greater opportunity to learn with the work that’s immediately around them is how leadership succession becomes real. These leaders realize what the most recent research tells us: development occurs best when applied to the challenges and opportunities immediately surrounding our current work.

High impact leaders also weigh in on the organization’s overall leadership development program. They can frequently be seen teaching, mentoring, coaching, and advising the organization on developmental opportunities. Developing others also grows our own companion competencies such as communication, employee engagement, innovative thinking and leading change.

Permission to tinker.

How do high impact leaders achieve so many breakthrough ideas? Why do these leaders have more creative, innovative initiatives emerge from their organizations? Because high impact leaders create a climate where people are comfortable challenging assumptions. Rather than being defensive when their ideas or processes are questioned, they become appreciative of the possibilities fresh eyes might provide.

High impact leaders also encourage tinkering with processes and products. Realizing the status quo is slow death, the high impact leader encourages people to consider experimentation and helps create a climate of “how can we improve” thinking. What positive changes in your operation have come about in the last 60 days because you encouraged tinkering?


High impact leaders know they don’t live to work. Despite investing long hours when required, they also navigate the work / life dilemma by making their family and personal growth time meaningful. Most of the really high impact leaders you know will have a personal health regimen, build time in their year to recharge their energy, and make and keep learning commitments to themselves despite the pressures of the enterprise. Chances are the high impact leader you know started or ended their day with exercise. When is the last time you truly unplugged to recharge or learn something new?

Organizations of the 21st Century demand high impact leaders. Are you waiting for permission to lead with high impact? 21st Century leaders create the conditions for success and do so with focus every day. Act now, you don’t need permission!

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