The Leadership Playbook: Doing the Work of the Leader

Leaders can very easily and unknowingly fall into a trap. Without even recognizing that they have done so, they can become addicted to doing urgent and important work that really belongs to someone on their team. By allowing themselves to get mired down in day-to-day operational issues that belong to someone else, they deprive themselves of the time they need to deal with the strategic work that their role requires of them.

If the leader isn’t dealing with strategic needs and systemic challenges, no one is.

Warning Signs

Your people bring you their challenges because they need your insight. Because the work is important, you decide you need to dig in and help your people do this work. You want to lead by example, and you want your people to know that no one is about whatever needs to be done—especially the leader. Rather than giving directions on what you believe the outcome of the important task must be, you do the work, depriving your employee of the opportunity to grow and learn, and possibly creating a dependent.

If you are doing work that isn’t the highest value-creating work you can do as a leader but instead doing work that belongs to someone else, it is a warning sign.

The First Poor Decision

Why are you doing the work that someone else should be doing?

Maybe you mis-hired, and the person in that role isn’t capable of doing the work themselves. That poor decision has now led to another poor decision, namely taking you out of your role as the leader.

Perhaps you have allowed someone you like very much, but who also happens to have a case of learned helplessness, to put their work on your plate without you recognizing it.

It’s more likely that you don’t even know you’ve abdicated your leadership responsibilities.

What Leader’s Do

If you feel a sense of accomplishment for doing the work that someone you lead should be doing, then you may be addicted to firefighting work that gives you a sense of accomplishment. It’s more likely, however, that you are really avoiding the difficult decisions and the difficult work that you are responsible for as the leader.

Leaders are stewards of the future. If you aren’t working on the future because you are spending the majority of your time on today, then you are putting that future in doubt.

If you aren’t working on your biggest strategic opportunities and your most difficult systemic challenges, then those opportunities are at risk, and the bottlenecks created by systemic problems will mire everyone down in day-to-day firefighting.

As a leader, you are responsible for doing the work of the leader first and foremost. It cannot take a backseat to work that someone else can and should be doing.

Filed under: Leadership

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