What’s Your Real Job?

Over the past month or so, as I’ve been working with various senior executives, the question of “What’s my real job?” has come up a lot.  It most often arises in relation to delegation; many CEOs and Presidents seem confused about what to hand off to folks who work for them, and what to keep.  As a result, they can stay too far down into the details, which takes up a lot of their time and is demoralizing and and confusing for their staff.

Sometimes it’s because they genuinely want to help.  Sometimes it’s because those detailed tasks are fun for them, or make them feel like they’re really accomplishing something. But I’m coming to see that, quite often, it’s simply because they don’t yet know what they’d be doing if they weren’t doing the things they’ve always done!
So here’s a metaphor:  if you’re running a company, you’re the captain of a ship.  The captain is responsible for setting direction, and making sure the ship stays on course; thinking about what resources will be needed to reach the destination and working with the senior officers to decide how to allocate those resources; making sure the officers are working well together and have what they need to succeed. He or she is also  responsible for assuring they’re clear on their responsibilities and able to fulfill them. The captain must also stay aware of all the conditions surrounding the ship and propose changes in course or operation in response to those conditions.  Finally, the captain is the representative of the ship to outside entities: the ship owner, the Coast Guard, etc.

The captain is not the person who goes down into the engine room and tinkers with the machinery to make it work better, or figures out how many towels should be bought, or whether to serve the crew ham for breakfast.

When I work with business heads, I often use this ‘captain of the ship’ metaphor, and then offer a sentence to help them decide whether or not to do any particular thing:  Only do what only you can do.  In other words, only do those things that no one below you is capable of doing. And if you’re doing tasks that someone else less highly paid and skilled than you could do (the equivalent of counting the towels), but there’s no one in the organization to do them…consider hiring someone.

If you’re running a company, you need to focus on making sure that the whole enterprise is successful. And you can only do that if you (metaphorically) get up out of the engine room and spend most of your time on the bridge…

About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

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