A Strategic Shift
If you’re a “leader” now, I’ll bet you were a great “doer” in the past. Your inclination to take charge and get busy distinguished you from the other doers and won you the opportunity to lead. Unfortunately, the do-it- yourself attitude that made you a great doer can make you a lousy leader because they are very different roles and manage power in different ways.
Great doers are distinguished by their direct achievements, their ability to personally take the ball and run with it. They focus directly on the outcomes, amass their own power, roll up their sleeves and get busy using it. Great leaders are distinguished by their indirect achievements, their ability to give the ball to someone else and then help them run well. Leaders focus on the people, and build others’ power and inclination to use it.
This distinction gets a little blurry in practice because most of us are both doers and leaders in some way, but leaders who do not envision their roles different than doers’, wind up confusing and competing with those they lead. They inadvertently steal power from their people. They create dependencies instead of opportunities and become the limiters of their team’s talents and capacity. Alternatively, leaders who reframe their use of power and rework the habits they learned as doers, create potent, independent contributors and teams that transcend the sum of their parts.
“Leaders focus on the people, and build others’ power and inclination to use it.”
Here are three counterintuitive tips to help you shift from doer to leader and power-up your people:
- Stop Doing What Needs to Be Done
When you were a doer and you went the extra mile or stayed after hours, you might not have enjoyed it in the moment, but you felt a certain satisfaction in doing it. It felt good to be the hero and demonstrate your commitment to the cause. In time, some of these sacrifices became your personal badges of honor. Now, when these moments arise, try to remember they are your team members’ moments, not yours.If you dive in and do too much to deliver results yourself, you’re usually taking that opportunity away from someone else. Your team will quickly feel unnecessary, confused, frustrated or demeaned. You mean well, but the problem isn’t your aspirations; it’s your inability to trust others with the responsibility of achieving them. It often takes more courage to direct others than to do things yourself, but ask them to step up before you do. It’s their opportunity to shine.
- Stop Answering Questions
When you are a doer, your ability to deliver answers is the source of your credibility, the measure of your effectiveness, and likely your ticket to the “big time.” However, when you’re a leader, your success doesn’t depend on how much you know as much as on how much your people know. You need them to provide answers, and they tend not to do this if you’re busily doing it yourself.Your people adjust their behavior to yours, so if you are too full of answers, you will eventually discover that they are too full of questions. They will increasingly pass the critical choices on to you and wait for your direction. This slows everything down and shifts the power unproductively away from the ones who need to be exercising it most. In short order, you will feel like your team moves only when you do.Stop answering questions and start asking them instead. This doesn’t mean you should stop offering feedback or guidance altogether. Being clueless and disengaged isn’t a great strategy for leaders or doers. However, you should tailor your communication to prompt and shape others’ consideration. Give the kind of assistance that empowers them to find answers themselves.
- Risk More on Other People’s Work
When you are a doer, your own work represents you for better or for worse, but when you’re a leader, your credibility rests on someone else’s work. You rise and fall on the choices they make. If you’re uncomfortable with this, it’s tempting to protect yourself by limiting the power of your team. You might give them sham-choices where you’ve hedged your bets and allowed only the latitude for choices that don't matter. Or you might create a situation where the team is merely an extension of your own imagination, judgment and preferences. These tactics might make you feel more in control, but control is overrated; it limits even more than it protects. Such tactics take power away from the people who need it most.As a general rule, if you feel safe and are confident that your people can’t harm your reputation, you probably haven’t given them enough power. Take the risk. Ease your discomfort by shaping the values and goals that guide their use of power instead of by limiting their access to it altogether.
Ultimately, the shift from doer to leader is difficult because it feels like you are giving power away. You are, but this doesn't make you weak. It's a paradox that confounds any doer sensibilities you have. As a leader, you are weakest when you lean on your own sufficiency, and you grow stronger only when you give your power away.
Andrew Johnston, Ed.D., serves as Director of Learning & Development for The Gideons International and develops leaders and organizations in many contexts as the owner of Johnston Consulting. His latest book, Burn: Kindling & Keeping the Fire in Creative Teams (Orange Thread, September 2017) helps leaders develop and direct high performing teams. Learn more and download the free video here.