Post from Transformation Tom- Balance Being a Leader and a Doer— You Can’t Do Both at the Same Time: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - May 5, 2019 - Leadership, News - No Comments

leader doerOn my mentor and networking monthly rotation, there was a question I asked of two leaders who had some familiarity of my background and reputation. I asked, “What would it take to get to the next level?” since I felt all of my recent moves were lateral. I was surprised to hear similar answers from these two respected leaders. I was told that I had a reputation of being the “clean up guy.” I was the one willing to get in the trenches and find the issues that needed to be fixed. I was independent in my thinking and did not need a whole lot of direction. I could execute whatever task needed to be done. I took these comments as a compliment.

The comments were really intended to inform me that I was good at what I was doing as a “doer,” but the question remained: What was I doing to prove that I was a leader? There is nothing wrong with being a doer; there is always significant need in every business for someone to come in and diagnose and improve. However, there is a distinction between a “doer” and a “leader” and I wanted to explore how to be the latter.

There were a couple of points being made. First, I continued to accept
new positions at a lateral level, so the consensus was that I enjoyed project
management and that I could execute on the deliverables. Second, I
had not adequately built up the reputation that I could lead when given
more complex job responsibilities. The job always got done when I was
there, but that was because I had a tendency to step in and start doing it
myself. I was not leading a team or project; I continued to be in the way
as the doer, or in team situations the micro-manager and meddler. It is all
right to want control of every detail, but this can cause frustration within
a team. In addition, it had the potential of sending a message that I did
not trust my people. It always crushed the creative juices of the collective
group if I simply pushed my own agenda onto them or moved them out
of the way. Both mentors told me to set clear expectations, and then get
out of the way of the team. I had the skills and potential to be a leader,
but first I had to stop being the doer, especially when I was the supposed

I was involved in a leadership program that diagnosed and identified
my certain tendencies as a leader. To no one’s surprise, I found that I liked
to roll up my sleeves and get dirty. We were asked to lead an initiative and
play toward our weaknesses. I had identified a project that needed to be
implemented. I assembled an extremely strong team, identified a competent
project manager, and watched from the sidelines. I made myself
available for periodic updates and attempted to eliminate road blocks.

With clenched fists and a constantly bitten lip, I watched everything
unfold in front of me. I allowed the process to run its due course. The
leader did a phenomenal job. The project was completed on time and had
greater business impacts than originally projected. I was able to allow
the team to present their findings and recommendations to the senior
leaders. All the while, I was there for support, suggestions, and debate.
Although I had the most experience and job knowledge, I remained silent
for the most part and allowed the team to shine. My name was listed as
the project leader, and that’s who I wanted and needed to be. I successfully
lead the project team members and was finally not a doer.

The first thing that was said to me after the presentation was how
smoothly this had run and how much we accomplished as a team. The
senior leaders praised me for being such an active leader in driving the
process. It had always seemed counterintuitive to let others do the work
because it may not turn out exactly as I had envisioned, but it made more
sense now that I’d experienced it in action. I could be detailed-oriented,
I could be intelligent about my business, and I could be there to lead the
business. I did not have to be a micro-manager and watch every detail
if I built the right team and set the right expectations. I needed to take
accountability for the final project, but if I did my job right, the success
for the project would take care of itself with a more satisfied team and a
better end result. I learned that I can’t be the leader and the doer at the
same time.

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

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