A Leader’s Do vs Be Conundrum

We’ve all recently ended not just a year, but also a decade.  Decades—on the calendar or in our life—offer a unique opportunity to evaluate progress toward critical goals. To achieve what we perceive as success, leaders often hear a laundry list of what we should be doing. We hear just as much advice about how we should “be.” What really moves us forward?

Quick Decade Success Scorecard

Let’s take a look at our decade. Grab a blank piece of paper for a short exercise.

On the left side of the sheet make a few notes. Think back ten years. In 2010 …

  • Where did you live?
  • What role did you hold in your career or vocation?
  • Were your relationships—both with those you hold closely and the individuals you must collaborate with to succeed—positive and effective?
  • What was your health like?
  • How did you define your identity?

Fast forward to today. On the right side of your paper, answer the same questions. Now evaluate what changed. Use quick symbols: Are the differences positive (“+”), better than you hoped (“++”), or perhaps less than anticipated (“-”) for a ten-year span? Were the changes the result of intention or outside whim? What, if anything, stayed the same? Have the events over the past decade made you happy?

Scorecard Example

2010, for me, was two major moves ago. I lived in a charming California beach community and worked at a Fortune 500 company. My role involved helping leaders and their teams grow and develop, partnering with organizations on strategy and innovation, and significant travel. If you had suggested I would voluntarily pack up for the east coast at any time, I’d have thought you were smoking something funny.

While I loved my corporate work, I could see a barrier to my next goal. Leaders who find themselves “stuck” need to pivot. In 2010, I acted with intention, choosing a doctoral program and buying a second home closer to the University of San Diego. I started USD’s PhD in leadership studies the following year and continued to work full time.

In 2013, I decided my final months of study and dissertation research would need my full attention. My husband and I sold our home at the beach and consolidated to the San Diego location. By the end of the year, I exited my corporate role and prepared to complete my doctorate in 2014. Mid-year, one of those unanticipated “outside whims” of chance interrupted execution of my plan.

For six months, I focused on a cancer journey. I paused my research and scaled back on activities during the surgery, treatment, and radiation. Then I hit reset, ramped up my timeline, and completed the research, dissertation, and degree requirements, graduating in full “regalia” in May of 2015.

Within an hour of leaving the graduation auditorium, I was on the road with my beloved, two dogs, and a parrot. We drove from San Diego, CA to Charleston, SC to deliver the pets and visit my son and his family in their new home. The return journey gave us over 2500 miles of opportunity to talk about what we wanted out of the coming years.

Although I had three corporate offers, I decided to launch a private coaching practice instead. I loved the flexibility. I prototyped offerings, including coaching, seminars, and working with a year-long mastermind group. I’d also started reviewing professional submissions and presenting at the global conferences of the International Leadership Association (ILA) and the Academy of Management (AOM) in 2012.

In November 2016, I was presenting at AOM in Atlanta. For a number of months, we’d been house hunting to enable my mother to join households. Instead of flying home, I detoured to Charleston. Learning my eldest son’s family was not going to transfer back to the west coast, we applied the “must-have” list of requirements to the local market. In less than 24 hours, we had a viable candidate. We created a video tour of the house and surrounding area, posted it, and started calling the family members in California to see if they wanted to trade coasts.

Eight weeks later, I’d packed up two households and moved three generations of family, four pets, and five vehicles across the country. Since 2017, I’ve transitioned the business, started running in 10k events, joined a board, and have become involved with emergency operations for our community. Four generations of family eat together at least weekly. My 2020 scorecard looks something like this:

  • Coastal California > Coastal South Carolina +
  • Corporate Exec (60+ hours/week) > CEO, LEADistics (flexible timeline) ++
  • Family spread out > Four generations in proximity ++
  • Little time for self-care> Emphasis on personal health (despite the fact that I’m currently nursing a broken foot) +

Much of the above resulted from intentional actions, but a few opportunities surfaced through serendipity. I shifted from a “heels and pearls” environment to a more fun jeans and leather jackets or athletic gear as my activity or whim dictates. I choose who I want to work with and when. This allows me to support leaders and organizations facing challenges that will make a difference when addressed. And yes, all of these things contribute to meaningful life and happiness.

Connecting Doing and Being

So how can leaders tap into what enables success for themselves, their teams, their organizations, families, and communities? I started this post by writing of “doing” and “being.” This may sound like heresy to some, but those “leader versus manager” comparisons fail to recognize that, to be effective, leaders must still have the skills to manage and managers must demonstrate leadership. At the core, the lead versus manage concept reflects a “be and do” conflict. Being and doing reflect two sides of the same leadership coin—we need both.

Because leaders are unique individuals, with varied backgrounds, experiences, cultures, and styles, suggesting or adopting a single checklist is unwise. While one size does not fit all, effective leaders do share certain attributes (being) and actions (doing); for example, self-awareness.

The broad characteristic of being self-aware covers knowing one’s own values and beliefs, talents and tendencies, and his or her best contributions and limitations. Such insights help a leader to align vision and strategy to what’s important, prioritize time and actions to address the essential, and both draw upon his or her own strengths and delegate to others whose strengths differ. Note that the doing part of self-awareness is an intentional choice to act consistently in ways that reflect beliefs and values or acknowledge a gap that must be overcome to succeed.

How the being and doing integrate:

  • A leader values respecting others. She treats everyone with dignity, listens to understand viewpoints that differ, and ensures open communication on her teams.
  • A leader learns he’s perceived as dismissive of ideas. He takes action to ensure voices of his team are heard, prompts for additional views, and intentionally acknowledges new thinking. He also asks a team member to signal when he may be shutting down others or acting dismissive, as well as help him stay accountable to his intentions.
  • A leader believes team members benefit from strong family relationships. He models prioritizing life balance, does not email team members after hours, and communicates the importance of both work and family commitments.

Regardless of role, everyone has the potential to grow, develop, and lead.

Take a moment to consider what one change will improve your leadership (if you need ideas, check with your colleagues and family). Ask yourself: What do I know, believe, and value related to this change? How do I tend to act and what are the results? Are those the outcomes I want? To grow your leadership in 2020, pick one area to be and do differently. If you need help, reach out.

Thank you for visiting Dr. Kathryn Bingham’s blog! We invite your discussion at LEADistics’ community page. Fans and honest critics are welcomed! Please see our Comments Policy and reuse Permissions on the TOOLS & FAQ page. All Imagine Bravely posts are covered by copyright law, with all rights reserved.

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