I’m a doer. I’ve spent my entire life seeing stuff that needs to be done and doing it. At this point it is more reaction than conscious thought. A gap opens up that needs to be closed and I feel myself being pulled into the void like a helpless astronaut through the airlock. The people around me find it both endearing and worrisome. When I say that I’ve got it handled, people know it will be handled. And yet there is a perpetual worry that I will take on too much and burn myself out.
No one ever worries about whether I can do it, the question is should I?
As I’ve moved into progressively more senior roles I’ve struggled to jettison or delegate enough of the doer work to give myself the time to lead. Earlier in the year I had a tough discussion with my boss about the importance of limiting my doing to those tasks that would benefit from my unique capabilities. He was continuing to expand the scope and scale of my work creating a situation where my survival would be based on prioritizing those critical tasks, investing in ways to monitor and manage my teams, and accepting that some things would not be “A” work. I took it to heart.
But, it hasn’t been easy giving up being a doer.
Just yesterday I was working on a task clearly not appropriate for my level, something I have been doing monthly for more than two years. I texted a colleague for a quick answer as he was leaving a leadership class. He was happy to help but in the course of the clarifying the information he noted, “I just finished class … delegation was a key topic. This seems like something you could delegate…”
“You’re right,” I said, “except…”
I proceeded to explain all of the reasons why I hadn’t done the right thing — why I was still doing and not delegating. None of it was legitimate and I knew it even as I typed. He could have let me off the hook, but he didn’t. Instead, he came back with his trademark wit, “I’ll share the section on addressing the reasons why not … just kidding…”
Of course he wasn’t kidding. He was shining a bright light on something I needed to hear and I’m very thankful he did. There are lots of people on our team who would be capable of doing the assignment if I simply prioritized the effort to transition it to them. Maybe I had been uniquely capable of leading the transformation years ago — for this small change my combination of accounting experience, big picture thinking, and process standards had made a difference. But now the process is completely stable and there is little value-add in my continued ownership. Every month I rationalize that I can do it faster, easier, and better and I’m probably right — I am a great doer. But, there’s a cost.
- In those two hours I can’t do the work that only I can do.
- In those two hours I can’t coach or support my team in tough challenges or new growth.
- In those two hours I can’t invest in my relationships, health, or hobbies.
Guess what, the cost isn’t worth it.
Solving the challenge of doing less and delegating more is critical for any leader who hopes to deliver great outcomes. I know that my organization needs me to do the right work well so we can all be successful and I know that my family needs me to live a complete life that is bigger than my job. Even so, it is hard putting away the skills that have led to my success and to focus instead on growing my capability to help others be successful. Despite my intent to stay focused, I get pulled into the classic traps every day: a desire to help, an inability to let my team down, a willingess to give up my discretionary time for a cause that is bigger myself. Those are all good things. Except when they’re not.
It will take me time to change a lifetime of instinct, but it has to start somewhere. So, I made a commitment to the colleague who called me out. I agreed to transition the task to someone else before next month. I can’t go back in time and give it up any sooner, but I can own the fact that I won’t do it again.
Now, I just have to do that a few more times.
4 thoughts on “What to Do When You’re Not a Doer Anymore”
I love this post! It’s definitely something I struggle with, as do many other managers I know who are now supervising positions that they used to fill… and it’s so critical to learn how to pass on/give things up! Thanks for sharing.
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I’m sorry, but I find this devoid of recognizing the talent around you. “None of them have my combination of big picture thinking and process standards. But now the process is completely stable and there is little value-add in my continued ownership.” I’ve been there for 20+ years. Many more longer than I. We all had a vision of the big picture and years of experience in our industry. All full of pride and well aware of process change or improvement. Putting forth standards that make long term sense. Does longevity and experience matter?
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That’s great perspective, Leslie. For the *small* task I was writing about, the one that I was struggling to give up, I felt that was true. I did not intend to describe a universal truth, because you are right — in any number of situations my experiences would *not* be the ones that would help. I’ll look for a way to clarify the writing so it doesn’t sound demeaning or superior, neither was intended. I really appreciate the feedback.
I love this post and the raw authenticity of what you shared. There are many of us who face this challenge in life and in work especially those of us with really high standards or perfectionist tendencies. The tradeoff is that what those closest to you need more of is what only you can give as you articulated. How you separate those two things – that which you can delegate and those that you should continue doing will continually need balancing. It’s true in relationships, in parenting, in leading and in coaching.
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