When talking to a manager about how she wanted to advance her leadership, she had this to say:
“I want to get out of the weeds. I spend a lot of time getting into the details of what the team does because I like it and I’m good at it. I like the nitty gritty problem-solving. But getting involved like this pulls me away from what I really need to be doing, like creating a long-term plan for growth and building external relationships.”
This is a common pitfall, getting pulled into the weeds of the work which distracts the manager from their leadership duties. The boss ends up with more “doing” (work the team can/should perform) than leading.
There are leader/doer roles that are intentionally created by the organization due to job structure or long-term staffing gaps. If you are in one of these, check out this article on how to make the best of it: Maximize the Leader/Doer Role.
But there are also leader/doer roles of the manager’s own making. This is when the manager chooses to spend time on or perform duties that are better suited for their team. This happens for reasons such as:
The leader’s strengths lie in the work of the team.
The leader lacks confidence or skill to say no to certain duties or delegate them out.
The leader prefers the work of an individual contributor versus the work of a manager.
Regardless of the reason, almost every manager finds themselves in this spot. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad manager, it just means they need to make different choices.
The first step is to take inventory of the work you need to stop doing and why you’re doing it. Then, identify the leadership work you want to do and why you aren’t doing it.
This is important insight to have so that you take the right actions. Here are four suggestions:
For many, the pace of work is swift, and it is easy to get wrapped up in momentum. This means the work you choose to do in each moment (or segment of the day) may not be the best use of your time. You might be moving too fast, preventing you from making a more conscious choice about the work resulting in more “doing” than “leading.”
Create moments or spaces in your day to evaluate the work, and ask “is this the most valuable use of my time, right now?” The immediacy of this question (“…right now?”) is what helps you take a beat to think about your work.
This approach speaks to Viktor Frankl’s famous quote (which applies to a lot more than just the leader/doer role):
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Create moments of space in your day so that you make conscious choices about what you do and when.
Clarify and Confirm Your Priorities
It’s easier to say no to work that doesn’t align with your priorities. It not only provides a justification for the other person, but more importantly, it affirms (to yourself) who you are and what you want out of your work. Staying true to this feels powerful.
Identify your priorities, write them down, post them in a spot that will remind you of them, and practice saying them out loud. When work comes up that you know you needn’t do, consult your priorities first, and decline the work.
If saying no to work isn’t an option, then negotiate the timelines, duties, and deliverables so that they better align to your priorities.
Identify Your Performance Gaps
You might be avoiding leadership work because you lack the confidence and skill to do it. Here are a few examples. You…
Avoid delegating because you feel bad giving more work to a busy team.
Correct or complete someone else’s work because you fear giving feedback.
Think if you just work harder you should be able to do it all.
The good news is these are examples of leadership skill gaps, which are easily filled by training, mentoring, and intentional practice. If you are a leader/doer of your own making and these examples resonate with you, then seek out resources to improve your leadership performance. Here are a few to get you started:
Reconsider the Role
Are you in the right job? Do you enjoy, get fulfillment, and are motivated by “getting results through others”, or being a leader? Do you prefer the work of an individual contributor? This is when you are solely responsible for personal performance and working as a member of a team. Or maybe you desire working independently as a sole proprietor (such as a consultant or contractor in your field.)
For some, the role of a leader simply isn’t the right fit. And that’s okay. Most work cultures would have us believe that the only way to advance our career is to go into management. But all great leaders need great followers, and maybe you’re a better follower (such as a productive individual and team player). If this is the case, then that is where you might need to be. To learn more, read here: In Celebration of Followers
While leader/doer roles are intentionally established at many organizations, they are often also of the leader’s own making. In these cases, there are opportunities to slow down and make a different choice, align to priorities, build skills, and even reconsider the leadership role entirely. By taking advantage of these options, you’ll start doing the work you both want to do and is the best use of your time.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
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