The Best Leaders Have the Best Systems

by  Guest Author  |  Leadership Development
The Best Leaders Have the Best Systems

Leaders are difference makers. They are catalysts who make positive things happen with available people, ideas, and resources. Which is why the world judges leaders first on what they actually accomplish, not the quality of their ideas or the strength of their vision. Strategy is important, innovation is important. But in the long run, a leader has to be somebody who knows how to get things done.

Unfortunately not many leaders have strong “get it done” skills. In a December 2015 Harvard Business Review article, three  authors described the pitiful results of a survey of almost 700 executives. “Only 16% of top leaders were rated very effective at either strategy or execution.” And only 11% were rated very effective in executing their strategy.

Too many leaders are beaten before they even start. They show up again and again ill-equipped for success. What are they missing?


If you’re going to accomplish anything big or important—and that’s what leadership is all about—you’ll need systems. Good systems are what we use to accomplish tasks that have to be done, at a certain level of quality or accuracy, again and again. They save time, money, and energy. They help leaders and teams focus on the things that matter most, which means they are able to get more accomplished.

A big project is made up of hundreds, maybe thousands of those types of repeated tasks. A company is made up of thousands or millions, even billions. Without systems, people trying to accomplish those tasks flounder, wander, waste time. They get bogged down in mundane, if necessary, duties.

Don’t let that happen to your team. Instead, spend the next month testing, analyzing, and improving every system you or they use. Develop more systems—for anything that happens semi-regularly. Why? I’ll give you three critical reasons.

  1. Most people aren’t great at developing systems.

It’s not that building systems is all that difficult. The problem is that people don’t think about them and aren’t challenged by their leaders or colleagues to do so.

I created an assessment of the five fundamental skills for personal success, based on the Cycle of Winning I describe in Serial Winner. In the assessment, I included three statements that relate to systems. Those three statements are consistently among the lowest scoring items on the test. The second lowest scoring item of all? “I continue to face the same struggles in my work or life, even though I keep expecting things to get easier the more I do them.” Almost 60% of hundreds of respondents agree or strongly agree that things aren’t getting easier the more they do them. Why? Because they don’t have systems.

Good systems require thought, planning, analysis, the desire to improve, and in teams, the ability to get other people on board. Most people simply don’t have all of those skills and they don’t understand the importance of developing them. If you want the systems your team uses to be effective and to get better over time, you’re going to have to make it happen.

If you’re one of those people who is lousy at developing systems, make the time to get better. If you can’t do that, find somebody on your team who creates great systems and leverage their talents for the good of the team and the company. Find the most efficient and productive people on your team and gather their ideas first.

  1. To work, most systems have to be personal.

Some things in life and at work are done by most people in almost the same way, based on best practices in a company or industry, regulations, or the technology you’re using. But outside of that group, the systems that work best are the ones that work for you.

My Uncle Martin was a farmer. He kept his farm neat and orderly: fields cultivated, lawns cut, trucks and tractors always in their specific parking spots, hay and grain stacked carefully. He had a system for everything that he taught to the farmhands who worked for him. However, he also had a huge shed where he kept his tools and his workbench. To the untrained eye, it was a complete mess—spare parts, wires, pieces of metal, tubes and pipes of every size scattered around. But Uncle Martin knew where everything was, and that’s what mattered. (His system worked great for years—until the whole shed burned down. Sometimes you have to rebuild even the best systems.)

Even in a company, the systems that work the best are personal or customized. Which means you—or your team—have to develop them. You can hire a consultant to come in and analyze how you work and tell you what systems or processes you need. More than likely, they’ll fail.

What’s your personality? How do you keep yourself organized? How visually oriented are you? What’s the culture of your team like? All of these questions matter when it comes to developing a system that will last and produce the right results—and only you or your team can answer them.

  1. You can’t grow without systems.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a division leader or a department leader, your top priority is growth. Without systems, and focused effort to improve those systems, you can’t achieve that top priority. Sporadic, random improvements in the quality or efficiency of your product or service are not going to generate the kind of steady growth most companies need.

Bottom line: Consistent success is not a random event. It requires systems. The more you can automate, put into a routine or on a list, or get on a schedule, the more discretionary time you create for yourself and for your team—time you can use to strategize, create, innovate, and grow.

larry weidel

Larry Weidel is the author of Serial Winner: 5 Actions to Create Your Cycle of Success (Greenleaf, October 2015). He has spent the past 40 years building an award-winning financial services organization across North America. On his website, he shares articles, podcasts, and other resources to help people win in any area of life. Connect with Larry at

Have you ever seen how a system can make a positive difference?
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What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  01 Apr 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Larry – thanks for this interesting and valuable post about the need for systems.

I have repeatedly experienced the impact of well-designed systems on work flow, collaboration, and business outcomes.

One particular experience always comes to mind for me when talking about systems. An organization implemented a comprehensive work flow and data organization system which included what some called a “micro-manager” approach to how people structured their work days and how they retained or deleted/threw away information generated in the course of business.

The goal was to standardize our work, get on top of data curation, and to become a more agile and flexible organization. After the intital design and training by a consultant, I and one other person were charged with actually implementing the system, first in our corporate office and with regional staff, then later in field units.

The resistance was fierce from some quarters and usually took one of two routes: “You are treating us like children by forcing us to file everything the same way” and “I already have a system that works for me, so why should I change?”

Both paths reinforced something for me, as I painfully and slowly worked on this project for over four years:

1) Standardization is often seen as a threat or, at best, an inconvenience.

2) Individuals who already have their own solutions may not think much of your solution.

The response to both types of resistance, at least in my case, was to clarify and reinforce the reasons why we chose to move to this level of standardization (roughly paraphrased below):

1) Increased standardization helps everyone understand the individual, departmental, and organizational flow more easily and quickly. When you understand the system well, you can use the system effectively.

2) Systems work best when everyone works the same system, which requires some sacrifice from some folks. BTW, these are the people I recruited to serve as “experts” to help me implement the system.

3) When everyone across the organization clearly understands the rules and guidelines for what information to keep, what to get rid of, and where to store what you keep, things work better.

4) Change is hard and may feel uncomfortable. This is natural and to be expected as we shift to a more clearly defined system.

This last point was interesting because the reality is that organizations do not either have or not have systems. The worst company in the world has systems … they just don’t work very well:).

An additional point is that not all systems are formal. Implementing an effective formal system requires us to root out all the informal or even secret systems which have develped over the years.

Enjoyed your post – thanks again for sharing your knowledge with us:)


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