Some people think that once they ascend to a leadership role (or to a certain level of leadership) that they are immune from doing “real work” anymore. And even if you don’t feel that way, if you spend a little time as a fly on the wall with groups of front line employees, you will hear that perception regularly.
“They don’t do any work” or “I have no clue what they do all day” are not terms of endearment; instead, when people use those phrases, they are sharing their feelings about their leader’s lack of effectiveness and connectedness.
There is no question that as a supervisor, leader, director (pick your title), you have different responsibilities than you had as an individual contributor. However, the best leaders realize this isn’t an either/or proposition. There is much to be said about leaders being willing to get their hands dirty doing the work of their team — sometimes.
Before I explain my point further, let me say this isn’t a post to justify micro-management or to imply that delegation isn’t important.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Rather, this post is about ways that you can, through your actions, both engage with and endear yourself to your team.
What is “the Dirty Work”?
The specifics of the dirty work will vary by company and your specific role. If you are in leadership in a manufacturing or a construction company, your dirty work might be really, well, dirty. In general, think of the dirty work as the stuff no one wants to do ; it is unpleasant, difficult, tedious or there is just too much of it. Sometimes, it is the actual work of the team — when there is too much of it.
Ways to “Get Dirty”
Lending a hand. A big order comes in. It is Black Friday. There’s a big push to finish a project. You are shorthanded due to illness. If you have the skills and experience to do the actual job, get up from behind your desk. Stack boxes. Pick up a phone or a shovel. Make a sale. The best leaders know that sometimes the best thing that they can be doing is physically helping the team.
Taking over other tasks in a pinch. Maybe you can’t do their job (or you are rusty – and you end up being more of a problem than a help). In this case, what other work is getting in the team’s way that you could do for an hour or a day that might really help them? Perhaps that is your dirty work.
Getting more help. This could mean more resources, a shifting timeline on other work, or additional staff. When you show that you know a team is struggling or needs help, when you provide that help, they will see you as engaged and aware of their needs. This is your job!
Finding other ways to engage. Maybe they don’t want you anywhere near their work, but perhaps you can do some of the paper work, or buy the pizza or donuts, or find some other way to tangibly show your support for the team and their work.
Taking the time to effectively coach and train. Lest you have forgotten my earlier point, this isn’t about doing the work of your team all the time. Oftentimes your most important work is to accurately, carefully, and fully train your people to do their jobs more productively. When you do that, they will be better prepared and truly need you to step in to help in tangible ways less often.
And What is Your Dirty Work?
This is a great question for you to ponder.
I’ve given you some examples and ideas, but my main point in this piece has been to get you thinking about how your actions reflect how engaged and empathetic you really are. Think about ways and situations where you can pitch in and play a part, more as a team member than as a “boss”.
When you find the right balance here and show your team by your actions that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty at the right times, you will build credibility, trust, and create a more effective team.
Balance, yes. If you begin doing the work all the time, you aren’t allowing others to grow and you aren’t doing your job. But if you never step foot on the shop or sales floor, you unnecessarily distance yourself and lose touch with the realities of your team.
Think about this balance and take action on your thoughts. If you want to be a great leader, seen as supportive by your team, remember that it is ok as a leader to get dirty sometimes.
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