Avoid The Dark Side Of Being A Role Model

You may have seen my recent post Boss, It’s Just Not Your Job.

Soon after, fellow instigator Paul LaRue published a great piece, How to Kill 'It’s Not My Job'.

These two topics may seem at odds with each other, but together they raise an interesting point.

In my post, I advise bosses to not do work that is really your employees' work. This can deny them the opportunity to develop their own resourcefulness.

Paul comes from a similar place in emphasizing to employees that saying, “It’s not my job,” is not an excuse. He reminds leaders this works best when you role model taking on a task even when "it’s not your job."

So what’s a leader to do? Where’s the line? What’s enough to set an example, but not too much -- so much that your employees don’t stretch?

The Birth Of A Monster

I distinctly remember sitting in a colleague’s office. He was behind his desk. I remember the sun through his windows. He was a manager, and I was not yet. I was ranting about some injustice. He was listening. The only thing I remember him saying was, “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.”

"I said, 'Somebody should do something about that.' Then I realized I am somebody.”
~ Lily Tomlin

That day changed my life and career. I grew up on a farm. I already knew that if I saw something that needed to be done, I needed to do it and not leave it to someone else. My colleague’s words brought this to another level for me.

I became more active in working to change things that didn’t make sense for me. It’s one reason I got into HR. I knew that employees, when given a reputation to live up to (Thank you, Dale Carnegie.), will often rise to the occasion. Yes, this required effort on my part, but it also made me more collaborative and effective.

Be Aware Of The Hole You May Be Digging

I also remember days sitting in my office crying because I worked so hard at making things different and nothing seemed to stick.

There were times I felt like I followed people around cleaning up their messes. One boss suggested that if I always fixed things for people and didn’t allow them to take the consequences of their mistakes, they would never learn. True.

Just as important, an attitude of I’m that somebody who can do something about that taken too far, can lead to burnout. For me, at one point it culminated in taking two weeks off from work at my manager’s behest. I had exhausted myself with my “the buck stops here” approach.

I still have to work at not overdoing. The staff at the coffee shop I visit tell me I should be on payroll for all the tables I clear and trash I pick up. Those comments clue me in to noticing how much I’m doing that's not my job.

There is a point where doing something that's not your job is deliberate and important. But, what’s the right amount? Under what circumstances is this okay?

I don’t think the fate of the world lies in trash left on a table in my coffee shop, but I still believe in taking action when I see something that needs to be done. I am still working out what level of service and action is healthy for me.


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