Are you a work-horse?

Are you known for being someone who always delivers? 

Someone who can always personally take on
more work and get it done? 

And because of that, the work just keeps getting
piled on?

You may think you are being highly valued for
the large amount of work that you consistently
deliver – and in most cases you are. 

But let’s be clear:

You are being valued as a work-horse,  not as a someone with potential to be promoted.

Being a work-horse you will get stuck. 

After all, why would anyone want to promote you and lose their work-horse? 

I’m not suggesting NOT getting the work done.  Delivering results is a must.

But you need to get the work done like a leader, not like a work-horse.

KEY POINT: If you can create systems and processes to work more efficiently and effectively, you’ll not only get the work done, but you’ll be seen as a leader who can prioritize, rise above the tactics, and build value in the team, instead of being a known work-horse who can handle a virtually unlimited amount of work personally.

Here are some ideas for how to do this:

Recognize reactive, repetitive work. 
If you are fielding “issue” phone calls 24×7, going to infinite review meetings, dealing with swarms of tasks as they land in your inbox, stand back and say – “life can be better than this”.  STOP reacting.  Understand what is repetitive and build a process.

Delegate to a Process
Even if you are not a manager, and you can’t delegate to another person, you can always delegate to a process.  Think about which activities suck up most of your time, and create a process to streamline them. 

No matter what your role, think of your job as taking low value, repetitive, reactive work out of the system by building systems and processes to make room for high-value work.  This is the path away from Work-horse to respected leader.

Don’t “Cover”  
Don’t spend time doing or re-working your team’s work that is not good enough.  
Do you say any of the following to yourself?

  • It’s easier if I just do it myself. 
  • It will take less time to do it myself than if I try to teach someone to do it. 
  • I am better at this than they are. 
  • This is really important, it needs to turn out well so I’ll just do it myself.
  •  Damn, this isn’t good enough, and the big presentation is tomorrow, so I will need to stay late and re-do it….

Point #1.  Your boss wouldn’t cover for you.  If you create things that are not good enough, your boss is not going to work till midnight to redo it.  They will fire you and get someone who can do it good enough.

Point #2.  It’s not your job to “cover”.  You are getting stuck in work-horse mode instead of leading, and by failing to delegate effectively, you are failing to develop the capability and capacity in your team. (Which IS your job).

No Grey Area
If your team members are not capable of delivering good enough work, it is your job to teach them.  If they are un-teachable, it is your job to replace them and build a team that is capable of working at a higher level.  There is really no grey area here.  See also Can’t? or Wont?

Be unavailable
This is a technique that actually works really well.  Stop coming to the rescue.  Simply be un-available.  If you have given your team training and support and created the right processes, and if they know you are not available, they will deal with it.

Your team will survive and they will step up and deliver. If you are always available you will always get sucked in. You are staying a work-horse and failing to develop capacity in your team.

Don’t forget to take care of your work-horses
Likewise as a leader, it’s up to you to guide the work-horses that work for you to prioritize better, create systems and process to streamline their work.

The worst thing you can do to a high performer is to give them the same kind of work they are doing so well now, forever after. You need to help them break this cycle too.

Make your top performers famous
This also has multiple wins, such as motivating your top performers, giving them visibility, and demonstrating yourself as a leader who can recruit and maintain top talent.

But it also shows people that you are not doing all the work personally. By exposing all the people involved in doing the work, you are giving credit where credit is due, and showing yourself as a highly capable leader – not a work-horse.

Don’t forget to enjoy your life

Another trait of the work-horse is to put off enjoying life until all the work is done.
People used to tell me with pride that they had maxed out on vacation days and were no longer accruing them.

This is not something to be proud of, nor is it a precursor to great success.  This is a sign of being so out of control at work that you can’t plan and prepare enough to take a week off.

At the very least, take some time to remember what it is you enjoy.
It’s easy to forget what you enjoy when obligations squeeze out everything else for a long time.  But do something small.  Call a friend, play mini-golf, cook your favorite meal, go for a walk, read a book on the plane instead of email…

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You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

Building Your Extra Team
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