Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Atlanta, GA

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.” – Jeffrey Pfeffer, author and Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business

You’re fast, you’re efficient, and you do high-quality work. In a word, you are a doer. In the beginning, there was just you (and maybe your partners). You did every job, including emptying the trash and ordering the midnight pizza. Now you have others on your team and you may be confusing doing with leading.

Like most people, leaders react to increased demands by doing more. If you are running your firm like the “Doer-in-Chief” you may believe you need to work longer, harder, and smarter to be successful. Although it seems counterintuitive, it turns out that leaders would be much more effective if they did less.

Most leaders let their natural tendencies get in the way. They try to do too much, and they never find the time to do their essential job—leading. Instead, they end up doing jobs that other people on their teams could and should do.

A leader’s job is not to do all the work; instead, leaders need to focus on activities that are oriented toward thought more than they are toward work. They should work “on” instead of “in” the business. Specifically, leaders should facilitate their team’s performance; think of great strategies and help others implement them; plan for the future; and take a wide view of the landscape so they can confidently choose the right forks in the road, be alert to potential hazards below the waterline and not miss opportunities.

How are you currently balancing the doing and leading in your work? Are you buried in details and day-to-day deadlines or are you able to focus your thoughts and actions using a broader, deeper perspective?• Look at the big picture. Periodically take a step back and practice “going to the balcony” to get perspective on what is happening and why.

• Set aside a block of time for strategic thinking. Your daily to-do list is important. But, taking time to think about where you are today and how you plan to get to the next stage in your firm’s development, is of equal or greater importance.
• Ask yourself, “What are we trying to achieve?” Go back to this question as a touchstone to get out of the weeds.
• Ask yourself, “Is what I am doing urgent, or important? Am I too heavily focused on details that should be delegated, rather than on the big picture?” Can you defer or delegate something you’re working on?
• Are you working with and through your team, providing a balance of direction and autonomy, to position your business for the future while meeting current demands?

Ultimately, strategic leadership is both an organizational and a personal process. When you revamp your role as a leader and delegate tasks on your to-do list this will result in greater efficiencies throughout your firm, allow you to take a more strategic approach to the business, solve problems before they become crises, and be successful well into the future.

Ellen Warden
Ellen Warden