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Posted By Ted Baumhauer
It sounds good to say: “A leader shouldn’t ask anyone to do something he/she wouldn’t do themselves.” For some reason that phrase has popped up several times in the last couple of weeks in the college class I teach and at a student leadership conference I attended. Both students and instructors have said it and on face value it seems a reasonable thing. It implies that the leader isn’t above doing the work of the group; of getting their hands dirty; of being just another member of the team. That’s fine and I have no issue with that at all. 
What I do have a problem with is when that phrase gets translated into the boss should be able to do everyone’s job, in other words: “How can you be the boss, you can’t do my job!!”  With that phrase the message is that the leader should be able to do everyone’s job and can’t lead effectively unless they can. That is a crock!
We are not talking about routine jobs and skills that anyone can do and the leader can perform as well as any other member of the team. This is about high performing teams with members that have specialized skills and training to do what they do.
You wouldn’t want your surgeon doing the scrub techs job during your surgery just because she can. You would want her focused on her job and everyone else on that team focused on their particular job. Is that any different than a software team working through a code problem or a sales team planning how to bring in a new group of clients, or even an assembly line team trouble shooting a glitch? Each member of that team has a set of skills, with more experience and training in those skills than the other members of the team. 
Leadership is also a skill. The leader’s job is to lead. The best use of their time and talents for the success of the team ought to be spent leading. Leaders, unlike other members of the team, focus on issues like orchestrating the talents, managing the process and communications, developing talent, and building confidence, among others. For the good of the team maybe it isn’t that the leader wouldn’t do the task, it might be they shouldn’t do that task. There is a difference.
 

 

 
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Ted Baumhauer
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