Real leaders get the work done

Three young leaders I’ve worked with this month, and one of the important habits they share:

The founder of public charter school in Washington, DC: I spent Saturday morning working with Will. He is opening the doors of his first school in August and applications for student enrollment are due this Friday. He already has 1.5x as many applications as he needs, but because of the lottery system in DC, this does not guarantee full enrollment come August. How did Will spend his Saturday morning this weekend? He walked around one of the roughest neighborhoods in DC finding people with children who are eligible to enroll in his school and encouraging them to apply.

A top ranked student leader in CT: I spoke at Quinnipiac University last week. Before the speech I had the privilege of eating dinner with ten of the University’s most talented student leaders. I really love it when I have that opportunity – it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. After dinner I went to the auditorium where my speech would take place to sound check. I was surprised to see that one of the extremely talented student leaders I ate with was busy setting up 300 folding chairs for the audience.

The manager of a state-wide political campaign: Matt is a close friend of mine and one of the hottest political campaign managers in the country. I frequently call him in the evening to chat. Half the time I call, he’s still in the office doing data entry, making photo copies, or preparing the mundane details of an upcoming fundraiser.

What do these three leaders have in common? They all do more bitch work than the average person.

There is a misperception about modern leadership. People believe that effective leaders spend their time working on high-level problems while delegating all of the rote tasks to their team members.

Not true.

While good leaders do delegate, the most talented leaders are not just sitting around their office coming up with ideas and giving orders.

They are working harder than everyone else in the game and they are doing whatever it takes to translate their dreams into reality. Their dedication to their project is far more important to them than their ego, and they get the job done, even when that means spending time doing menial work. Heck, many of the most effective leaders that I know care so much that they spend part of their nights and weekends working, often doing bitch work that their staff was unable to complete.

Next time you find yourself doing some boring, mundane chore for a project you care about, pause and remind yourself that you’re in good company: every single leader you admire has been in your exact situation.

Dedication to getting the work done, even when it means doing boring, unsophisticated work, is one of the secrets of a leader’s success.

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