By Sara Canaday
Though it might seem a bit unfair, there is a tendency to categorize team members as DOERS or DRIVERS. Those with the greatest potential successfully make the gradual shift from doing all of the work themselves (DOERS) to making sure that all of the work gets done well, according to their vision (DRIVERS).
Here’s the fundamental difference: Instead of simply managing, the DRIVERS step up and start leading – delegating, motivating, strategizing. Every company could use more DRIVERS. Fortunately, there are specific things that can be done to increase the DRIVER-to-DOER ratio within an organization.
I recently consulted with a talented woman named Leslie who was struggling to understand why she was repeatedly passed over for promotions to senior management. Not surprisingly, she arrived at the first meeting with a large folder containing a wide range of documents to substantiate her track record for success. As she began to describe her achievements, page by page, I could instantly tell that her career roadblock wasn’t caused by a missing page in her impressive file. The problem was her inability to make a critical shift in her leadership skills. Leslie was clearly stuck in the role of DOER, despite the fact that she was brimming with potential to be a successful DRIVER.
Although Leslie was feeling trapped in the middle-management cage, she had already mastered the essentials. She had done so many things right and she was truly on the verge of getting ahead. The changes she needed to make were relatively small and, oddly enough, mostly related to adjusting her perception among her colleagues. Leslie had the brains, the drive and the determination to accelerate her career; she just needed to change her reputation to be seen as someone who could lead people and craft strategies. I assured her she had the potential to continue her upward career trajectory. My challenge was showing her how.
When high-potential leaders fall into this same trap, my recommendations for Leslie may also be beneficial. I suggested seven things Leslie could do to switch from DOER to DRIVER and, perhaps more importantly, change the way she was perceived by her colleagues.
1. Create an Action Plan
Given Leslie’s strong slant toward productivity, I knew she would feel more in control of the situation if we started by creating an action plan for professional development. I asked Leslie to make a list of the knowledge and skills she thought she would need as a senior leader within her organization. Among her responses: thinking strategically, motivating teams, and coming up with innovative ideas. Based on that list, we crafted a blueprint for her development process, complete with courses to take, books to read, and workshops to attend. I encouraged her to take on stretch assignments, and we brainstormed about opportunities to showcase her leadership talents in a more visible, perception-changing way.
2. Delegate More
I challenged Leslie to make a deliberate change in her work patterns and delegate more projects to her own staff members. On a logical level, that made perfect sense to her. However, Leslie confessed that the thought of “delegating more and doing less” seemed just plain wrong. I wanted her to start thinking about that in a fresh way. The hours she gained through delegation shouldn’t be viewed as wasted, non-productive downtime. On the contrary. Loosening up her schedule would give Leslie a chance to think about the bigger picture and formulate smarter plans for better results.
3. Follow Examples of Success
I asked Leslie to identify the people in her organization who were clearly seen as DRIVERS and think about the way they do their jobs. How do they interact with other people at all levels? What kind of word choices, tone and body language do they employ? How do they influence and inspire teams to reach their goals? From that group of successful DRIVERS, Leslie could seek out a mentor willing to give her honest feedback and careful guidance.
4. Look the Part
For Leslie to get noticed and get ahead, she needed to look the part of a promotable executive. Like it or not, her credibility was often based on her visual resume. While Leslie routinely wore professional attire, we talked about the subtle messages she might be sending with her dress and her grooming. By stepping up her image just a notch to more closely match her company’s top executives, she could make a bolder statement about her potential that would support her new leadership skills and behaviors.
5. Improve Communication In Every Way
Verbal and nonverbal communications have a powerful impact. Leslie and I discussed ways she could use that to her advantage – speaking more succinctly, controlling her tone of voice, and working to become a better listener. Her communications “upgrade” also involved paying closer attention to her online messages.
6. Understand the Critical Role of Social Fluency
To be perceived as someone with executive presence, Leslie needed to operate at all times with a higher level of emotional intelligence. We talked about connecting with colleagues on a deeper level and learning to read (even anticipate) the emotions and reactions of others.
7. Become a Thought Leader
If she wanted to stand out, Leslie needed to position herself as a thought leader. Thought leaders develop an area of expertise that is valuable to their companies, and they actively apply their knowledge in a way that results in a unique understanding or a distinct opinion about that topic. If Leslie could build her reputation as a trend-spotter and critical thinker in a particular niche, she would be top-of-mind when new leadership opportunities emerged.
Using these suggestions, Leslie became more confident and her leadership persona started to get some real traction. As she took on more projects that showed off her new skills, she began getting recognition for a different type of success. About a year after our last meeting, Leslie called to say that she had been selected for a senior director position, and she was beyond thrilled with her new responsibilities. She had genuinely learned to “let go” of the details more than she ever thought possible, and she was embracing her new reputation as a visionary leader. Even in our phone conversations, I recognized the clear signs of executive presence in her voice and demeanor. Leslie had successfully crossed the bridge from DOER to DRIVER, and I could tell she loved the view from the other side.
Author Sara Canaday is a nationally recognized leadership expert, corporate speaker and owner of Sara Canaday & Associates, a consulting firm based in Austin. Her new book, “You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career,” is now available. www.SaraCanaday.com
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