Transitioning to Senior Leadership: From Problem to Outcome Orientation

Problem Orientation

We are picking up on a series of blog posts that focused on the key mindset shifts needed to successfully make the transition into senior leadership. You can learn about the first mindset shift – from being Smart to being Aware – here.


Our research


As we explored the transition into senior leadership, we conducted a survey where we asked executive leaders (e.g., C-suite leaders), “What is the biggest mistakes you see senior leaders (e.g., Vice Presidents, Directors) making?“ Two themes arose: (1) lack of vision and (2) failure to hire the right people. Here are some of the responses we heard from the executives.


  • “Not clearly articulating the mission and the goals that are required to execute it.”
  • “Not providing direction and then being critical of results.”
  • “Failing to set the vision, communication.”
  • “Lack of communication on company direction and clarity of expectations.”
  • “Consistency so others know where they are going and what is expected of them.”
  • “Not setting and communicating expectations.”
  • “Not spending time on vision, not trusting staff to manage.”
  • “Hiring the wrong people.”
  • “Surrounding themselves with the wrong people.”
  • “Being afraid of hiring people who are better than you.”

In the same survey, we asked team members a similar question. “What is the biggest mistake your senior leaders make?” Here were a few of their responses.


  • “Lack of vision, and/or lack of ability to communicate vision.  Lack of follow through.”
  • “Failure to clearly and consistently communicate the mission and goals of the organization in ways that enable each member/employee to see, feel and understand his/her role in achieving.”
  • “Not having a clear direction for the department.”
  • “Poor communication of, or lack of, a vision or strong set of goals.”
  • “Painting a rosy picture when it’s not, not providing growth opportunities for employees.”
  • “Failure to communicate a clear vision. Failing to follow through.”
  • “Not providing and communicating a clear vision or direction for where the organization needs to go.”
  • “They don’t listen to their employees, they aren’t aware of what is going on in the organization as far as they are not visible.  They don’t know what customer want and they don’t have a good vision for where the company should go and is going.”

Mindset Shift 2: From a Problem to Outcome Orientation


The second mindset shift that senior leaders need to make is a shift from a Problem Orientation to an Outcome Orientation.


We’ve found, in both our survey and work with clients, that at the emerging leader level (e.g., supervisors, managers) people typically approach their work with a problem orientation. In other words, they see a problem and they fix it. They see another problem and they fix that one too. It’s a never ending process of tension and relief as problems arise and the leader fixes them. The leader, usually without even knowing it, has a dysfunctional belief that leadership is about rescuing others instead of teaching, delegating, and coaching. They are able to conceal their leadership weaknesses with their technical skills.


When senior leaders operate the same way, they end up working on the wrong things, and, as a result, force all of the leaders beneath them to work at the wrong levels too. Unfortunately, that’s not a scalable model for fast growing companies.


The shift from a Problem Orientation to an Outcome Orientation requires the senior leader to broaden his or her perspective and take a more systems approach so that they operate at the right level. It’s an approach that requires the leader to think beyond her own functional area, consider a longer-term view, and build people capacity.


From your perspective….what’s the impact of failing to make the transition from a Problem Orientation to an Outcome Orientation?


Stay tuned for our blog post next week for more on this second mindset shift.