From doing it all … to not!


When you cast your mind back to when you first stepped into a leadership role, it’s possible you remember the feelings of excitement and pride, mixed with fear and trepidation.   

What’s required to excel as an effective team member is different to what’s required of us as a leader.  It involves a massive behavioural shift which, according to the tenets of Emotional Intelligence, also requires a corresponding shift in self-perception and identity.  

So much of what we ‘do’ is tied up in how we see ourselves.   

Making the shift to seeing ourselves as a valuable leader can sometimes be difficult for women who’ve held the busy label for many years. However, in leadership, and in life in general, busy is the highway to burnout. No thanks!   

The shift in activity that comes with a leadership role, from doing to leading, can feel seismic, especially for those women who have made a career out of being known as the woman who gets things done. This reminds me of that infuriating quote/meme:  

‘If you want something done, ask a busy woman.’  

It’s such a patronising, manipulative ethos designed to simultaneously stroke a woman’s ego and leave her in the lurch of taking on the heavy lifting. At the risk of repeating myself, no thanks times infinity!  

While it’s not necessarily easy for a woman to step away from doing it all, it’s not impossible.  

In fact, it’s one of the most remarked upon outcomes of my work with mid-career women. Once they stop doing the busy, out of leadership scope work, women have the space and the capacity to tackle – and embrace – their leadership role of thinking, driving, leading and (depending on their leadership style) serving aspects. They can be visionary and strategic. They can guide rather than do.  

By definition, leadership is about thinking. The traits of good leadership are almost all conceptual rather than activity based. It’s analysis, facilitative thinking, enabling, communicating and decision making, generating and bringing to life opportunities. Deep, strategic, critical thinking, not (necessarily) the execution or the doing. A big picture perspective becomes essential to this process.  

In ‘busy’ doing work we can’t see the big picture. We’re stuck in getting sh*t done mode, ticking through the list. The result is a disproportionate workload that makes us feel like rubbish. It also leads to disengagement, stress and potentially even burnout.  

Getting caught up in the busy work often means we’re doing work that’s not taking advantage of our capabilities nor our potential. It’s often soul destroying and erodes self confidence.  

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should!  

When we spend time after hours and on weekends doing the ‘stuff’ that didn’t get completed in business hours we erode our boundaries which are designed to protect us.  

A side note: so many times I see ‘taking one for the team’ accompanying this ‘doing’ mode of operandi. This does us no favours and is a massive breach of our boundaries.  

Want an example?  

Picture a meeting room, and someone says ‘who wants to take the minutes?’ Of course, no-one wants to take the minutes. Who would? There’s a few moments of uncomfortable silence and then a woman raises her hand. So instead of contributing her expertise, experience and smarts to the discussion as a leader, she’s recording it.  

I think it’s important to note that this type of behaviour, ie not having allocated roles for meetings ahead of time, is really symptomatic of a poor organisational culture, but it doesn’t change the fact that rather than step into her leadership, a woman has relegated herself down the ladder. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident across the many, many women I’ve worked with.  

On this – as a leader you have an obligation to be a good role model. We all know that there’s gender inequality in the workplace. Statistically, women are more likely to put their hand up to volunteer for work that won’t progress their career.  What message are you sending the young women sitting around the table?  

When you don’t automatically volunteer to take on the “housekeeping” jobs you are role modeling for the young women at the table that they don’t always have to either.  And you never know…  you may just allow space for a bloke to put his hand up. 

So, how to make this transition from doing it all to not? 

We could ask the workplace to step up – ha!   

Change is always more embedded with long term stickiness when it’s self-directed.  

I’m a big proponent of what gets measured gets managed. Have you ever tried time tracking? It’s illuminating. You can’t argue with data that tells you exactly how much of your working day is spent involved in tasks that have no bearing on your leadership.  

Start with building better boundaries  

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. These are not flippy floppy boundaries – but boundaries protected with barbed wire!  Without barbed wire boundaries, there’s simply no time or space to effectively lead. Enough said.  

Boundaries in place? Great! Now we enforce them.  

Don’t be the first to ‘just get on with it’ or volunteer to do something just because nobody else is stepping up. Either delegate if that’s within your remit or politely decline.  

This applies to your personal life too. I was recently chatting to someone who was having a mini-grumble about a friend cancelling a lunch because they had to dole out basketball uniforms for their local community club. Here’s the kicker – the uniform coordinator’s kids had long stopped playing yet she was still stuck in that role! 

And now for a word on delegation.  

It’s an art and a science in itself, or it could be. Allocate the task, check understanding and then let people do their jobs! Clear communication of your expectations is key. Clarity will get the best and the most out of your team and will help them stay on track and focused on delivering your strategy or vision. 

This brings me to the concept of trust.  

Trust your team, allow people to get on with it, scaffolded by your clearly communicated expectations.  

Being helpful, useful and reliable – focused on doing the do may have supported your career progression up to this point.  But sadly, from this point forward it’s going to hold you back.   

As a leader you need to move from the role of do-er/implementer and shift your focus to be one of leading others to do that execution.  

Leadership is about enabling, and at the core? It’s a conscious decision on how you want to show up as a leader. This is not something you need to explore alone – let’s have a conversation about how I can be of support as you transition from a reliable doer to an exceptional leader.  







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