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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

It's Not Your Job

I've met some Teflon leaders in my time, who do very little, take no responsibility for anything, take the glory for successes and distance themselves from failures, but thankfully they're relatively few and far between. More often - and this could be the nature of the work I do and the people I therefore encounter because they struggle with this - there is a tendency for lots of leaders to do the opposite; to become almost obsessive about every aspect of their team's output to the extent that they end up doing much of the work for their people.

I've noticed this tendency with headteachers I worked with in particular! The ultra-passionate ones can be guilty of carrying the whole school on their shoulders, taking every tiny aspect of the school's activity, performance and output as their own responsibility and agonising over things that weren't the way that they 'should' be. That's an incredibly admirable approach, especially in a profession as important as teaching where student outcomes are so important not only to the school but to the wider public, but it comes at a cost.

It's problematic for a number of fairly obvious reasons which you don't need to work in leadership development to be able to recognise, but it's worth reflecting upon them. Firstly, from the viewpoint of the leader - you can't do it all, no matter how good you are, and trying to do so will only lead to exhaustion, potential burnout and ultimately failure. It takes energy and passion to be a great leader and we all only have a finite amount of each. Burning through it all in a short spell will lead to worse outcomes and when the person who was carrying the bulk of the load is no longer able or willing to do so, failure awaits.

Secondly, there are a number of ways in which this behaviour impacts the rest of the team.

In trying to do it all, you're taking the autonomy and responsibility away from others which stifles both their room to and their likelihood of growing. You create a self-sustaining downward cycle. On one side of it; the more you do, the less they do, the more you need to do. On the other side; the fewer opportunities your people are given, the less likelihood that they'll develop their capability and the less able they'll be to step up and carry the load. Some, who are willing to carry the load and keen to grow, will ultimately become disenfranchised and may seek other opportunities, weakening the team. I've seen this happen. Leaders who refuse to loosen the reins end up alienating great people who want to learn and develop and then wonder why they're only left with those who are happy to coast and have the leader do all the heavy lifting.

Ultimately, you're handing out fish, instead of teaching your people to fish, and those fish have to come from somewhere. So you're handing out fish, while overseeing ten rods and trying to reel in all the fish in the pond yourself. That's probably enough of the fish analogy, I suspect you get the point!

A subtle mindset shift that I've seen really help leaders in these situations (or, ideally, before the situations manifest) is to reflect with them on the idea that 'It's not your job to do it, it's your job to make sure it get's done'. It's like the idea I've discussed in here before, about the difference between being on the balcony and being on the dancefloor. Too many leaders are keen to get down IN the work of their team, instead of operating OVER that work by carrying out activities like coordinating, planning, observing, coaching and providing feedback. Now that doesn't mean that you shouldn't be close to the work and have a good understanding or it, nor does it mean that you shouldn't be willing to carry some of the load if it's absolutely necessary. However it does mean that you need to be mindful of what your job actually is and consider how you can be of service to the most people at a time - and that's by helping create the environment in which they can do the work that they're responsible for.

Take some time today, before the weekend arrives, to consider your role as a leader. Where are you DOING work that you should be LEADING? Are you spending your time on the activities that are part of your role, or the activities that are part of the roles of others, and what impact is that having. And if you're doing that to fill a void in the work of others, how else could you fill that void? By understanding why the void exists and helping the person responsible to grow, to the point in which they can fill it, or perhaps to allocate the work elsewhere? There are many solutions to these challenges and as a leader, you're well placed to find the solutions!

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