I heard a story the other day, about a senior executive whose young son was beginning to understand how the world works, and the money flows. Then he asked his father why the people who seem to do all the work earn less money.
It was the moment parents wait for, and often, dread.
The father responded the best he could. “There are managers,” he said, “and they do a lot of the work.” Leaders, he said, provide direction, and vision, and take the risks. He never talked about those at the bottom of the economic heap, but for the moment, that wasn’t the point.
True, his selected vision was implicitly self-serving. And simplistic. But there’s also something valid here.
Even at our company of 15 people – and even after winning The Wall Street Journal’s award for Best Small Workplace — we struggle with leading vs. doing. And I sympathize: Managers who have learned the rules, and the mistakes, of marketing so well, that even when they want to teach, and know they should, the temptation is to do it themselves. Because it’s faster. Easier. Avoids mistakes. And, if I’m honest, they do it better.
But it’s worth remembering, that doing isn’t leading. And when we’re heads-down on the work, we can’t pick our heads up enough to see what’s coming down the road. Much less what’s off to the sides, or gaining ground behind us.