Are you a Doer or Leader?

The $15K spot bonus, in appreciation of the continued good work, could not have come at a better time. Andrew had been working eighteen hour days for months now. That was inclusive of weekends. A lot was at stake for the organization. The bosses were happy but still pushing for ‘faster, better and cheaper’. The product had to be released before Mother’s Day. It was like the whole thing rested on Andrew’s shoulders. His wife and new born child barely saw him anymore. Missing his child say the first word and taking the first step were all secondary to getting the product into beta release and testing. Andrew had enough and was just about to call it quits. The timing was perfect. A token of appreciation in the middle of the year was enough to tell Andrew that the bosses cared about him enough to carry on with the long hours.

Andrew was the go-to guy in the group. The one person who knew it all. SME. Rock star. And everything in between. Andrew enjoyed the attention he was getting and all the fringe benefits that were showered upon him.

When it came to review time, Andrew got a decent raise and a plum bonus – at least one that kept him happy. But when it came to promotion, it was John who got it. Someone with a lot less skill and experience. Andrew was devastated. Left him shattered and wondering. What more could he have done to deserve the promotion? After all the product’s release was mostly his making!

True story. One that repeats itself time and time again the world over. Every organization, across geography and culture has the quintessential Andrew and John incarnates. One does all the work. And the other gets promoted.

Classic conundrum. Be the doer? Or a leader?

The vast majority of any organization is filled with doers. Rightfully so, since, at the end of the day, someone has to do the job. Projects have to be done. Products have to be released. The lights have to be kept on.

A minuscule percentage rise above this majority and move onto the ladder and make the journey upwards. These are the leaders that get to manage the doers. What is it that separates these leaders from the doers? What can a doer do to become a leader?

Learning the characteristics of leaders and modeling them in our own lives, we can make the leap from a doer to a leader. Aspiring to become a leader will not necessarily put you on the path to climb the corporate leader. But at the very least, it will ensure you are not left behind as the one who will do all the work and continue to sit on the sidelines.

Here are ten defining attributes of a leader over a doer:

  1. Tactical Vs Strategic. Doers are forever focused on operational issues. The nitty gritties. Down in the weeds. All the tactical nuances that keep the organization moving forward. Leaders are focused on the strategic aspects of the business. They are thinking of the big picture. The planning. Strategizing. Figuring out the what-if scenarios. For a doer to graduate to a leader, he/she needs to remove himself from the tactical tasks and set aside blocks of time to think strategically about the task on hand.
  2. Give up Control. This is a difficult one for a doer. Having done the tasks by himself, it takes enormous discipline and will power to give up control of day to day tasks to others in the team, and be willing to assume the risks of not being able to control everything. Not being able to know the status of every itsy-bitsy task on the list at all times, is a scary proposition for a doer. But unless, the doer can mentally contend himself in getting to know status from a third party, he can never divorce himself from the day-to-day grind of the job. Trust is a big part of this equation. Trusting your team’s capabilities to solve the problem is the first step in giving up ‘do’ing and taking up ‘leading’.
  3. Shift from talking to listening. A doer is a talker. Whether it is to get the job done or to report status, a doer has to do a lot of talking. A leader on the other hand, is a listener – for a vast majority of the time. The more you listen, the more you can strategize. The more you can think. Plan.
  4. Be the catalyst. The typical job of a doer is to solve problems. Because the doer is so accustomed to solving problems, he is always eager to take care of the problem. Solve it first. And then wait or ask for the next problem. As opposed to a leader who instead of solving the problem, positions the problem in front of his team, and gently nudges them to solve it themselves. By asking leading questions, the leader moves the team along to find the answers.
  5. Get out of the way. A leader gets out of the way of his team. He is not there solving problems for them. Or even offering suggestions and picking options. Instead he confidently leaves the problems to the team and rests in the comfort that the team is capable of solving the problem themselves. Nothing irks the team more than a helicopter leadership – one who is forever hovering over the team, wanting to know and do everthing.
  6. Become the coach. A good leader is a great coach. Rather than do everything themselves, great leaders, coach their teams to own and solve the problems themselves. They use appreciative inquiry to nudge the teams to explore, own, solve and move the problem towards a solution.
  7. Get a coach/mentor. Leaders and those aspiring to become one are aware of the benefits of getting a good mentor; someone who can guide them through the process of climbing the ladders and more importantly bat for them when necessary and specially when the going gets tough.
  8. Own the failures. Doers, by virtue of their job definition are all about getting things done. And more often than not, that gives enough opportunities to show off their success. The few failures are small and inconsequential. The big failures are handled by the boss who then suggests corrective action and takes care of the reporting. Leaders on the other hand are not afraid to own the failures. They are not afraid to report it to senior management along with the course correction required to remedy and avoid the same mistake from happening again.
  9. Be informed. As doers are focused on getting their jobs done, they work themselves out of any available time to catchup on what is going on around them and in rest of the world. Leaders on the other hand read and keep themselves updated on current affairs, industry happenings and issues/topics trending in their sector.
  10. Put the team first. Leaders are generous with their appreciation for the team. They are readily willing to credit all the success of the task, big or small, to their teams. When necessary they call out individuals and appreciate their contribution to the project’s success. When it comes to failures, a leader is readily willing to own the failure and buffer the team from any possible ramifications from it.

The $15K in bonus was not a devious act by the organization or the leader. It was appreciation due to Andrew and the organization did a commendable job acknowledging it in a timely fashion. That Andrew chose to be the recipient of the recognition, and in the process be known as the doer, SME, rock star and go-to guy was entirely his making. For all we know, it could be a conscious choice, in which case, there is no argument or further thoughts about it. But, if it was lack of understanding or naivety then the ten tips from this article could very well be a starting point for Andrew.

A lot more has to happen for the doer to graduate to be a leader. Proving the need for a team. Hiring one. Training them. Effective delegation. Trusting them to take care of tasks. And a lot more. These are the details. The ‘How’ portion of becoming a leader. The first step is the recognizing and acknowledging that you are a leader. Then working on the ‘How’.

What are you? Doer? Or Leader?

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