Leading vs Doing

In my coaching of Black Belts and other professionals with similar roles, I often encounter a lack of awareness or appreciation for how their role changes as they progress in seniority from a team member performing tasks, to a person who needs to get things done through others and then finally to a person who has to get things done through one or more layers of other professionals.

I usually end up sketching a diagram like the one below:

Often, highly capable people are hired at the task performer level. New Black Belts, entry-level management consultants, and other professionals who first join a professional services organization are driven, talented, and not used to failure (that’s why they were hired). They have largely succeeded through their own efforts, skills, and initiative. When under pressure, they will usually fall back on the one strategy that has usually helped them to cope and succeed: they roll-up their sleeves, put in huge hours of work, and do the work themselves.

Once the time comes to lead others, however, and they have to learn to get things done through others, these very instincts conspire to sabotage their efforts if they persist in these tactics. Equally talented and motivated team members are driven crazy by the micro-management or interference of the leader who too often insists on “taking the steering wheel” even when it is not necessary to do so.

That said, the role of the manager/project leader is not always so clear-cut. There are times when the project leader must personally get involved in the task at hand. They might have a skill that is unique and that no other member of the team can realistically match. If the circumstances do not allow for the coaching or directing of others to do the job, then the manager might find themselves in the role of player-coach, that is a person who must blend the leading of others with having to put themselves onto the playing field. The downside of this, is that if taken to an extreme, the player-coach becomes so involved in doing things that they neglect the leadership/management aspects of their role.

Perhaps the most enduring and powerful tool related to this phenomena is the Situational Leadership Theory developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard (Directing, Coaching, Supporting, Delegating).

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