The Best Damn Doer Syndrome: Why the Hardest Workers Seldom Get Promoted

Are you working too hard?

Does everything fall apart when you’re not around?

Do you find yourself bailing out your boss, your peers, and your team?

If you can answer YES to any of these questions, it’s likely you’re being held back by the “Best Damn Doer” syndrome.

Be careful.

I know. I’ve felt the guilt of being promoted over people working longer and harder than me.

I’ve also promoted the “right candidate” over the one with the most sweat equity in the game.

And the other night, I had one of my clients ask me to help “John,” his high-potential “best damn doer.”

“John’s the go-to for everyone, he adds huge value AND it’s holding him and the business back. How do we get him past being ‘the best damn doer?'”

5 Ways to Overcome Being the Best Damn Doer

The Best Damn Doers are the glue, the lynch-pins, the guys or gals who consistently win the awards…. AND yet are frustrated when year over year their less “competent” peers get promoted.

If this sounds like you, here are a few ways to back away from the grind and add additional value to the team–and your career.

  1. Start with a Heart-to-Heart with Your Boss
    Bosses love the go-to guy. I know. I’ve had them on speed-dial for years. But the truth is, your boss is likely the same person coaching you to “delegate more and be more strategic.” Even when it’s your boss asking for you to be doing the doing, pause and explain how you’re working to develop your team. Commit to setting clear expectations and inspecting outcomes, but resist the urge to be the one to take care of it, even if it’s your boss doing the asking.
  2. Build Skills Before the Fire Drill
    When the crap’s hitting the fan, it’s hard to hand over the reins. Bring your team in early and often in low-stake situations. Get them ready.
  3. Delegate Well
    In Winning Well, we offer lots of tools to help in this arena. Be sure you’re delegating process not outcome, defining the finish line, and are holding people accountable.
  4. Ask Great Questions
    The best way to get your team thinking is to ask not tell. One secret to great leadership is getting your team thinking along the same wavelength. Ask your team open ended questions that encourage them to find solutions (if you’re reading Winning Well, see pages 135-139 for a useful list.)
  5. Be a Curious Learner
    Ask your team to teach you what they know. You might be surprised by their knowledge and approach. Then your coaching is gravy.

Bottom line. The more you can replicate your best damn doer skills, the better the results, for your organization, the team, and for your career.

Step away from the doing, and watch the magic.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

4 Comments

  1. Know this syndrome well Karin! What I have done for myself and encouraged others to do in “ungluing” ourselves is to find out how we can add value to other people we work with and what skills we need to attain to grow our own careers. When leaders become advocates for themselves, they identify responsibilities that they no longer need to own and groom emerging leaders to master those skills. It’s a win-win for everyone.
    Thanks Karin and your book is amazing and helpful!

  2. I realize now I’ve know a couple folks like this and couldn’t nail down what it was that I knew might be holding them back. I suspect a lot of this desire to be the goto person rather than delegating comes from an insecurity or fear of shame that they need to be recognized for getting it done at all costs or incorrectly believing they are doing their team a favor by relieving workload from their team even if the work is rather flawed and then has to be cleaned up by that same team s/he was trying to help.

    I really like the questions broken down by needs on page 137, thanks for including that reference.

    • James, thanks so much1 I do think a lot of it comes from incredible intentions to not let the team down and to be as helpful as possible. All good stuff. Now we just need to channel it in a way that multiplies the impact.

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