Are You a Leader or a Doer?

Are you spending the right amount of time on work that is most relevant to your role and your responsibilities in your organization?


If you’re like many of the executives I coach, you probably think so. But you may be wrong. I often discover that leaders are spending 60%, 70%, 80% of their time on operational tasks far below their level of seniority and only 5% of their energy on mission-critical work, like strategic planning.


It’s similar to load balancing in IT. With our business lives increasingly conducted electronically, we all know first-hand what happens if network workloads are poorly distributed. Response times lag.  Throughput decreases. Systems crash. Reliability suffers. Vital things don’t get done.


The same principles – and risks – apply to professional workloads. Unless you achieve the proper balance in your strategic, operational, and management responsibilities, you will become overwhelmed and unable to lead your team and the business effectively.


Most of us don’t realize how ineffectively we allot our time. When I first met one of my clients – let’s call him Frank – he was exhausted and thinking of leaving the company. I had been brought in for executive coaching because Frank was up for a promotion, but his managers weren’t sure he could step up a gear.  Their concern: is he a leader or a doer?  In fact, Frank was doing, doing, doing 70 to 80 hours per week.  We plotted his output on a map and it was apparent that Frank was micromanaging to the point that he had no time for leadership activities, like being an ambassador for the company.  Once he reordered his priorities, recruited the right people for his team, and learned to delegate, Frank got a new lease of life. He gained the promotion, cut his hours, and got on better with his bosses.


So how do you determine if your workload needs rebalancing? Start by calculating how you currently split your time among the following areas in a given week:



Consider how you spent your time last week. Let’s say you lead a team.  How much time did you spend writing reports, chasing deliverables to meet deadlines, going to meetings you didn’t need to attend, and staying overly involved on projects?  By over-supporting your staff operationally, you don’t have the time required for critical activities like talent development, strategic planning, and customer engagement.


If you find that you’re too focused on operational tasks, there’s usually an organizational dynamic at play but chances are you are contributing to the problem as well. Do any of the following drivers ring true for you?


Control – Some executives become anxious unless they know the details of everything that is happening with their teams or in their departments.


Comfort – Operational tasks are often easy for executives and, unlike more strategic long-term work, provide instant gratification. I know how to do it, there’s an outcome, and I feel good.


Confidence – If I do it, it will get done properly. This motivation is particularly strong in high-risk manufacturing environments or companies where there is a blame culture.  Often, executives have resources available to them but lack trust in their capabilities. As a result, their reports become overly dependent and worried about doing things wrong. They end up deferring to the leader and becoming disengaged – which perpetuates the cycle.


There is no “ideal” role balance that fits every executive; each person and each environment is unique. That said, we typically expect senior level executives to spend most of their time on strategic issues, followed by people management, and then operational tasks. To start to rebalance your load, you might try a 50% Strategic, 35% Management, and 15% Operational split and adjust from there.


Try the role-balancing exercise and let me know the results in the comments section below. Experience tells me that nine out of ten of you will find that you are way too invested in operational work, but maybe I’ll be surprised!



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