David’s Leadership Articles

The problem with just do your job

The Problem with Just Do Your Job

by | Sep 2, 2019 | By David Dye, Winning Well

Have you ever had a team member say something like this? “I just want to do my job. I know you want me to care, but I don’t. It’s a paycheck and I’ve got kids.”

Or perhaps you’ve heard a leader tell their people, “It’s not that hard – just do your job.”

These expressions are two sides of the same coin and are a major challenge for leaders who want to build a courageous culture.

I feel for the employee who says “Just let me do my job.” I’ve been there. As a teenager digging ditches in the summer heat or scrubbing down gas pumps, trying to save money for college, I wasn’t thinking about the customer or how we could run a more effective business. I focused on getting my work done and hanging out with friends that night. There are roles and seasons where that’s the reality.

I also empathize with those frustrated managers. I’ve been that leader who felt irritation at an employee for over-complicating or avoiding a straightforward task. It’s normal to feel like telling them “Just do your job.”

Two Problems with “Just Do Your Job”

Both feelings are normal and they happen to the best employees and the best leaders at some point. However, you don’t want to stay there. There are three problems with “just do your job” that will limit your leadership and cripple your results.

Problem #1: Work you can “just do” is going away.

Routine, predictable, structured work is being automated. Technology is commoditizing many products and services, and easy jobs are going away. Robots and digital agents powered by Artificial Intelligence will continue to displace blue and white-collar jobs.

This is a challenge for employers and employees. When so much is automated and quality service or products are the prices of admission, how do you differentiate your business from your competition?


The secret to surviving and thriving in the automation revolution is in what computers can’t replace:  human creativity, empathy, and critical thinking, especially in unpredictable environments. Leading in the automation revolution isn’t about what you can control; it’s about what you can create and contribute.

For team members: we all have those days where we’re doing well to show up. But if showing up is all we do, every day, a computer will show up faster, cheaper, and more accurately. To create and contribute start by engaging with your customer. Think about the work you do and the way you do it. What have you learned? How can it be better for you, your team, your customer, and your organization?

For leaders: you can help your team move from just showing up to creation and contribution by regularly asking for their ideas, bringing them problems or opportunities and discussing them together, asking courageous questions, and then take action on what you learn. Over time, this combination of curiosity and implementation will build momentum.

For the latest research about building Courageous Cultures, download the first few chapters of our new book for free here.

Problem #2: Success takes a team.

The second problem with a “just do your job” mentality is that you won’t get the micro-innovations, solutions, and ideas that allow your team to transform their results. Any work that you can’t outsource to artificial intelligence and computers will improve with multiple perspectives and diverse thinking. Even in small companies, the specialization of skills and different talents in your team of three or four people mean you’ll benefit if you can draw out everyone’s best thinking.


For team members: What perspective do you bring that will help your team be more effective? When will you share it? What experience does your colleague have? How do they see things differently than you do? When will ask for their perspective?

For leaders: If you’re not already consistently asking for ideas and solutions, it’s time to start. If you’re asking, but not hearing as much input as you’d like, look at how you ask.

When you’re talking with a team member who is struggling and “just wants to do their job,” start with empathy then shift to what’s possible. For example:

“I hear you—I’ve been there too. And it’s going to take more than just showing up for us to succeed. I don’t just want to show up for you—and I know we can do more than just show up for our customers. I also hope we can create the best experience for you and your team. I see what you’re capable of doing and I’d love to hear your ideas as you have them.”

Your Turn

When you build a dynamic culture that leverages humanity to solve problems, respond to customers, and adapt to change, you build a strong foundation to survive—and thrive—in the automation revolution.

Leave us a comment and share your best technique to help team members move from “just do your job” to creation and contribution.

David Dye helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Peachy Essay

    Hi David. Thanks for your article. I agree with your claim that leaders should tailor their speaking and leadership styles according to the size of the group they are with. A larger group is going to by design have a greater diversity of people within in; people with different races, genders, cultures, ethnicities and general perspectives on life. Ways of management that would work on a smaller, more homogenous group will backfire and alienate members of a larger group. Because there are fewer commonalities in a larger group, more general terms must be used to retain group cohesiveness. In other words, a wider net must be cast.

  2. David Dye

    Thanks for the contribution, P.E. – you’re right on that leaders must grow as their teams do.

  3. Nick

    I agree with all the tips you have shared with us. For the leader, particularly when there is a problem, you need to know and respect the opinions of your team. Everybody should work in a group. The phrase produces a more competitive environment, leading to unproductive outcomes often.

    • David Dye

      Well said, Nick – thanks for adding to the discussion!

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