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Maximize the Leader/Doer Role

Updated: May 12, 2022

I recently asked a group of new managers (all had started their positions within a year) what their biggest realization or “ah-ha” had been since starting their job. Here is what Jill, one of the managers, had to say:

My biggest realization is how little “leading” I do, such as strategic planning and developing my team. Due to budget constraints, we couldn’t backfill two positions. This means, I am responsible for the workload of one role (in addition to my leadership duties) and the responsibilities of the other position were dispersed across the team.

What I love most about leadership is developing others, visioning, and aligning a team to that vision. Now, given the volume of work we have, I feel there is very little time for anything other than the day-to-day operations. I’m overwhelmed, the team is too, and I fear I’m losing my credibility. It feels like the team just sees me as their peer, not their leader.”

This leader’s account opened the door to others sharing similar experiences.

These roles, of being both a leader and a doer, show up across all industries and organizations. To be explicit, it is when the leader is responsible for setting strategy and managing performance plus, they have responsibilities that would typically be performed by someone on the team they manage. Here are a few examples:

  • Social Work: The boss is responsible for their own social work cases in addition to providing oversight to the team’s cases.

  • Healthcare: A physician is responsible for providing care to their own patients plus providing oversight of other physicians and the practice.

  • Any organization where a boss has a staff member who quits, and that boss is now covering their work. Depending on the circumstances, this ranges from temporary to permanent.

A common misconception is the belief that there is a balance for the work. Said another way, leader/doers think they must be performing ineffectively because they feel “off”. They batter themselves with “I really should be doing this…” or “I really should be doing that…” to strike some arbitrary balance.

The leader/doer role requires an entirely different mindset, one of maximizing, not balancing. There is no perfect balance in these roles. Instead, its about how to make the best use of it. Here’s how.

Accept It

At many institutions, the leader/doer role is established and likely not something that will go away any time soon. Afterall, if this dual role is expected to conclude, you can stop reading. Get through this temporary rough patch the best you can and then move on from it.

But if this role is here to stay, then accept it. Name it. Even say out loud “I’m in a leader/doer role.” Making a conscious acknowledgement confirms its existence. It’s much easier to take productive action on something tangible.

Establish the Best Use of the Role

Start exploring what it would mean to maximize the role or make the best use of it. This simple reframe of the position helps your mind drift toward possibility, which is far more motivating. Go for a walk and think about the following:

  1. What are the best possible outcomes for this role?

  2. How can I shape it to meet my leadership and team needs?

  3. What does success look like?

  4. What are the obstacles to my success in this role?

  5. What can I let go of or stop doing?

The answers to these questions inform your next steps. New ideas will emerge. Try them out, evaluate, and keep going.

Categorize Your Responsibilities

This worked for Jill, the manager from the beginning example. She took inventory of her duties and labeled them “leader” and “doer”, which included both meetings and deliverables. This helped her see exactly where she was focusing her time and gave her a starting point for making changes.

Through this categorization she noticed she wasn’t conducting check-ins with her team. Their touch bases were mostly spontaneous without a plan to them, which lent to Jill feeling like a peer instead of a leader. Instead, Jill initiated monthly check-ins with each team member to discuss their successes, challenges, and professional development interests. This fostered Jill’s leadership presence and also provided her opportunities to coach and mentor, the leadership activities she enjoyed most.

Put Routines in Place

One of the greatest benefits of work routines (which also look like boundaries) is reducing the number of decisions you make. By structuring work and putting routines into place, you don’t have to decide what to do on that day or during that block of time.

Instead, your routine drives the work. This reduces stress, saves time, and preserves energy. Here are a few examples:

  • Bob spends the first 20 minutes of each day reviewing his calendar and to-do list so that he begins each day with a plan.

  • Paige checks her email three times per day in 30-minute increments: 7:30am, 12:30pm, and 4:30pm. Otherwise, her email is closed. If her team or boss need her, they text.

  • Vinay goes for a daily walk at noon to clear his head.

  • Jill established “doer days” and “leader days” to compartmentalize the role and structure the work.

Not every day will follow the routine. Work is dynamic and ever changing. But the more structure you put into the place, the easier it will be to focus and be productive.

The leader/doer role is common and one that first requires a shift in mindset. By moving away from balance to maximizing (making the best use of the role) you can make better choices and ultimately feel better for it.

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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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