The Surprising Mistake that Could Be Sabotaging Your Leadership

Work hard and reap the benefits. That’s what you’ve done so far in your career and it has worked to propel you forward. You are known as a “doer.” You get it done, whatever “it” is. People describe you as competent and dependable. They know they can count on you. It has been your hard work and sweat that have gotten you to where you are.

Women often think that our sweat alone is the primary driver of our success. People will see our abilities for what they are based on: our work product and the amount of effort we extend. We work hard to prove our competence and to show that we bring value. This works great in school. Work hard, get the good grade. Work hard, get into the good school. Work hard, get the promotion. You see where I am going. It works… until it doesn’t.

Let me explain.

I, too, am a “doer.” I’ve always taken pride in this title. People know they can count on me, that I will be responsible and produce a good product. Throughout my career, this was my modus operandi. I worked hard, doing more than my fair share and assuming the responsibilities of others when they were quite capable of doing it themselves. Then, I would feel resentful when others didn’t acknowledge my efforts or step in to take some of the work off my plate.

Prior to a leadership role, this was a personal aggravation. But, once I was heading up a team, it became a massive bottleneck. Instead of empowering my team, my actions said, “I don’t believe in you to do this work, so I will do it myself” or “You don’t have to do this work. I will take care of it for you.” Meanwhile, my burning the candle at both ends was standing in the way of my business success and causing me to burn out. And it certainly was not scalable.

Gender-Bias Is a Factor

There is a natural tendency for women to “over-row the boat,” as Susan MacKenty Brady, chief strategist with Linkage Inc., likes to say. This is partly due to gender bias. A well-known illustration of gender bias at play is the 2012 study by Yale University where 100 fictional, identical resumes for a lab manager position were sent to 100 faculty members nationwide to assess what their hiring decisions would be based solely on the resumes. The only difference between the resumes was that half bore the name “John” and the other half said “Jennifer.” You probably know the story. John was rated more competent and hirable, and he was given a salary of $4,000 more annually than Jennifer. Despite both candidates having the exact same qualifications, Jennifer was perceived as less deserving of the job. Hopefully you can see how this sets Jennifer up for having to work significantly harder to demonstrate her value.

We Do It to Ourselves Too

But, gender bias is only part of the problem. Our own false beliefs about work, worth and competence also play a role in why we work ourselves ragged. Inside, we may secretly wish that someone else, our spouse, our boss, our coworker, will see how much we are contributing and acknowledge our efforts. This can be particularly true if we struggle with talking about our ourselves, our own strengths and accomplishments. We may simply be scared to give up control for fear of things not being done to our expectations or standards. Or we believe that by doing it all at or near perfection proves our value and eliminates the chance that others may question whether we are deserving.

What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There

Thinking in this way is a tragedy. Why? Because the “do it all at 110%” approach that got us the job or powered us through starting our business will sabotage us as leaders. Midway through our careers, instead of hitting our stride and putting our accumulated knowledge and skills to work, we feel exhausted and just want a break. When we are best poised to use our talents to lead others forward to greatness, we are longing instead for a long rest.

Stop Hyper-Performing and Start Delegating

Hyper-performing will certainly help us to a point, but our personal energy isn’t scalable and, frankly, over-performing is exhausting! At a certain point, if we want to continue to increase our impact, we must change our approach. The shift here is to learn how to leverage the talents and gifts of those around us. Instead of drawing on our ability to power through and do it all, we need to draw on our other skills, like collaboration and communication. 

We need to level up our mindset, rising above thoughts like, “I want to advance my career, take on this role, grow this business by doing X, but I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done.” We must understand that the work is not all for us to do. We enlist others. We empower others to do their jobs and to build their skills along the way. We ask others to help. Our new way of thinking sounds like, “I want to accomplish X. How can I inspire others to help me and how do I leverage their talents to get it done?”

It’s Not All About You

Sometimes the most difficult hurdle to this mental shift is getting past the belief that our delegation is self-serving. You protecting your own sanity is good for everybody!  By easing your burdens so that you can focus on your true priorities in a way that best utilizes your skills and prevents burnout, you are driving your entire team forward and setting an excellent example of quality leadership. You are also creating opportunities for your team to expound on their skills. Remember that when you choose to do it all, you are limiting their success (let that last one soak in for a minute).

So, whether you are dealing with “Team Work” or “Team Family,” the answer to getting it all done and increasing your impact is the same—stop doing it all yourself.

Recruit assistance, delegate and scale!

Heather Parbst is the founder of Clarity3 Consulting, a firm focused on helping entrepreneurs grow strong, healthy businesses. She founded Clarity3 after selling her own IT company and wanting to help others achieve entrepreneurial success. Having a background in behavioral science and experience as a CEO and business owner, Heather brings a unique perspective to the world of entrepreneurship and leadership. She particularly enjoys working with women to grow as leaders and scale their businesses.