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The Doer's Failure

For many of us, not only managers, in the face of urgency and challenge, taking some kind of action is our general default mode. It feels comfortable to be “doing something”. We are reluctant to give up on our “get busy” tendency, and it is often reinforced when we are under stress.

This reflexive urge for action seems to be triggered for 3 main reasons. First of all, “doing things”, and being “in action mode” is a quick fix toward reassuring us that we are contributing. We often experience a sense of comfort and reward when we check our boxes with a “done!”. Conversely, stopping, pausing, and not rushing into doing things can provoke an uncomfortable sense of emptiness, or uselessness. We are deprived of our little reward: “You did it!”, harkening back to our school years when instant gratification was offered by a “Congratulations, you passed!” So, recognizing that completing things and being rewarded for action makes us feel good, why would we be motivated to stop that?

In addition, western societies typically value taking immediate action much more than pausing for reflection and meditation, despite the statistically proven positive effects on wise thinking and decision making, despite some newer “let go” attitudes on our lives in general. In the workplace, we seem to have social and cultural pressures that guide us to do more and more while resisting the adoption of more thoughtful and deliberate attitudes and methods. We seem to be somewhat afraid of being punished for what we did not do, and so, we tend to do more than what is expected.

Thirdly, we know we all resist change, and taking such a dramatic shift in our ingrained modus operandi can be very difficult to do. Even if we realize and believe that taking a step back to reflect and consider all the variables facing one by a presenting challenge is more rational and wiser than rushing into action, (any action sometimes), we will still engage in “Doer” mode because this is what we know and what feels familiar and comfortable. We resist even positive, beneficial change because as human beings, we seem to be averse to the unknown; doing what we always have done seems like the way to protect ourselves from the “dangers” of uncertainty.

So, like most human beings, managers don’t escape this tendency. Especially when under perceived stress, they often launch themselves into action mode. It is like a defense mechanism. For instance, they often will stay very long hours at work. Or, they will start micromanaging their team members, asking for more action from them that might be necessary or helpful. When managers practicing this “do more” method sometimes measure their time productivity, the ratio of hours spent in work correlated to measurable, effective results, it can be very disappointing. under stress, the working additional numbers of hours has, unfortunately, not resulted from executing prudent choices based on rational decision making, taken to achieve specific results, but rather, the unwitting reflex of defaulting into panic mode driven by an unconscious objective for one’s sense of personal reassurance.

*** 3 hours

Being regularly overwhelmed with tasks and staying stuck in an “action mode” is counterproductive to growth as a leader. Urging action, doing one thing after another, (and not necessarily with purpose, vision, and strategy) is certainly not all that is required of a leader. Persisting in only exercising these limited methods to manage people may contribute to sabotaging, instead of advancing, our professional life.

We’ve all witnessed people or colleagues who not only work very hard and excessively long hours. It’s not uncommon for such people to continue taking more and more onto their shoulders, accepting responsibility for nearly everything, while not protecting their own time or maintaining for themselves healthy personal boundaries. We call them “workaholics”. Take a serious look at these people: they are often not respected or promoted. Why, despite their total commitment and loyalty to their company, are they often not promoted or considered for a change? I’ve come to believe that it is because, most of the time, they are seen as doers, “workers”, and not as future leaders in the company. Observing someone who appears overwhelmed, always on the run, and spending the best part of his or her life at work does not often inspire the impression that he or she is a candidate for competent future leadership. This person is not showing up as someone who displays thoughtfulness and steady calm. Are they likely to inspire trust and admiration among peers and teammates? Instead, the perpetual, die-hard “doer” is often perceived oppositely: defensive of their territory, micro-managing, struggling to delegate to their team or inspire others, resistant to change, and reluctant to consider new ideas.

Based on this research and the conclusions I drew from it, I began to advance the notion that being primarily a “Doer” is seemingly counterproductive. For managers in charge of large projects, such a one-track strategy was woefully inadequate for success. Conversely, open-mindedness, critical thinking, creativity, and a capacity to listen, are the qualities that seem much more likely to inspire and enroll others to give their best.

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