A good friend of mine is one of the hardest-working people I know. Except sometimes he isn’t the smartest-working person.
Not that he isn’t smart. In fact, he’s a brilliant marketer and networker, and the common-sense advice he doles out (including to me) is pretty darn brilliant, too. He’s an achiever, a doer. The trouble is, he tries to do other people’s jobs in an effort to keep projects on track. That in turn means he isn’t nearly as effective in doing all the things that truly are his job to do.
Sometimes doers overdo—they’re so focused on achieving and wanting things to come to fruition that they feel obligated to pick up other people’s pieces. “Oh, I’ll just do it, it’ll be easier,” my friend has said on more than one occasion. But it’s not easier… and, as I recently reminded him after the umpteenth time of hearing him complain that he’s working harder than everyone else, the underachievers get away with slacking off.
Unless he, and doers like him, stop doing everything, nobody else is ever going to step up.
Easier said than done, of course. But I think this umpteenth chat we had finally started sinking into his brain, because I’m seeing a difference. He’s a little more willing to let his colleagues stumble. Emphasis on “little,” but it’s progress.
If you spot this behavior in someone on your team, here’s my advice:
- Have a hard conversation. A former boss of mine used to give us a lot of leeway in doing our jobs, but when we were barreling down the wrong path, he’d bring us into his office for what I used to half-jokingly call the “come to Jesus meeting.” He’d issue a polite but firm ultimatum to get our act together. Phrase the conversation however you wish, as long as it’s abundantly clear to your team members that it’s not their job to do everyone else’s job.
- Tell them they’re not a firefighter. The “it’ll be easier” syndrome is all too common, and all too often results in fire-drill-like scrambling at the 11th hour (or 2 a.m.) to finish a project. If they’re honest with themselves, they know this is the reality, and they’re pretty darn sick of it. Delegating from the start and sticking to the plan is far less stressful—and, not surprisingly, way more productive.
- Tell them to let the others fail. Of course, none of us wants a project to fail. However, once again, “I’ll just do it, it’ll be easier” doesn’t prevent the others from failing. It prevents them from ever learning. It prevents them from ever having to take the blame for dropping the ball—and maybe even prevents them from getting fired when they deserve it.