Do you ever hear yourself saying, “I just don’t have time to do that now”? Think about those things you don’t typically have time to do. Usually they’re things that, while they involve more time investment, also return much more value — like hiring new team members, investing in training, or building relationships with business partners. Great leaders find the time to prioritize appropriately. I learned this the hard way.

Years ago, I was heading a systems integration project, and I’d gotten good honest feedback from my boss. He used a Spanish idiom to describe my leadership style, saying I was like a leaf blowing in the wind. He went on to say that a leaf is a leader who is too busy worrying about today’s emergencies or deadlines to invest in the future success for her team or herself. Leaves are too busy to meet with their customers or to analyze feedback from their stakeholders. They are not producing the results needed despite tremendous efforts, and they do not have a seat at the table when business decisions are being made because they have not earned the trust of the business.

The primary reason why a leader becomes a leaf is often the transition that tech executives make going from operations to leadership. We are accustomed to being measured by how much we produce, rather than how well we communicate or how effective our teams are. Further, new tech execs have often never been told that the key responsibilities of a leader are to set direction for the team and drive measurable results for the team. But even experienced tech execs can run afoul of the leaf syndrome. Too often, we just have mountains of work to do and too few resources and too little time to finish it. The lure of the short-term battles clouds the advantages of winning the long-term war.

A few years later, I joined an energy trading company to lead the technology business office. I was responsible for IT strategy, program management, IT supply chain, and IT Finance. In my prehire interviews, I’d heard that I was inheriting a poor-performing team. My plan was to meet with key stakeholders and each member of my team in my first week to better understand the issues to be addressed.

On my first day, I walked the floor to introduce myself to my new team. When I got to IT finance, two of the team members declared, “The new ERP went live last week, our forecast is due today and the forms are not working. You have to fix this!” They were frustrated and angry. At that moment, I had a choice — I could start trying to figure out the issue with the new ERP system that I had never been involved with (aka leaf mode), or I could stay focused on improving the team overall. I chose to reassure them that I empathized with their current challenges. I made it clear that while I was very approachable, I trusted and expected them to solve their day-to-day problems and only escalate when they ran into insurmountable roadblocks. My strategy was successful. After my first year at the helm, the perception of the team was completely changed. I was given more responsibilities, and several members of my team were being tapped for new opportunities within the firm.

What changed? Well, first and most importantly, I changed. I took a long-term perspective to my role and recognized that if I didn’t build the necessary relationships and set a vision for my team, we would never be truly effective. Next, I realized that I needed to maintain a healthy separation between leading and doing. That meant I needed to delegate and trust my team and make sure they had the resources and support they needed. Finally, I needed to reestablish trust from the broader organization by being a reliable partner.

To ensure that you are an effective leader, Forrester has resources available to help:

Bottom line: Organizations value effective leaders over busy leaders, and a leaf is not an effective leader. Effective leaders are the trunk of the tree that lays strong roots over many years, leading to healthy growth.