A lot of managers, particularly new ones, make a fundamental mistake. They do the work their teams should do rather than their own job.

Maybe your staff is down a person, and you figure it’s better to pitch in than to stress everyone out. Or maybe the workload is unexpectedly heavy, so you lend a hand to get through the crunch.

Some managers think it’s good to show everyone that they are just another member of the team. They want to prove they know how to work in the trenches, as though that makes them more qualified to lead.

They call it, “rolling up their sleeves,” but it’s just a manager not managing.

Your team needs you to solve the problem that left them short-staffed. They want you to focus on why the workload exceeded the team’s capacity, then prevent it from happening again. Only managers can solve these kinds of systemic problems. The team can’t.

And neither can you if you’re side by side with your team doing their work instead of your own.

You’re also doing long-term damage to your image. You’re working away, thinking everyone respects your skills. You think you’re showing everyone that you’re not such a big shot, that you haven’t forgotten your humble roots.

But that’s not what your team thinks. They think you’re not doing your job because you’re not comfortable in it. They think you’re showing off, that you’re trying to prove you’re better at their jobs than they are. They will be acutely aware of the salary difference between the two of you—you’re doing the same work but making more.

They’ll see that the problems that brought you out of your office are going unsolved.

And it Gets Worse

Meanwhile, what do you think your boss will see? A hard-working manager going above and beyond during a crisis? A selfless act by a hands-on leader?

Doubt it.

It’s more likely your boss will see a manager who’s not comfortable managing. They will see that you’re not solving a problem, just putting a bandage on a wound you should be suturing.

And they’ll wonder why they’re paying you a manager’s salary to do an individual contributor’s job.

It’s hard to imagine a wider gulf between what you think you’re demonstrating and what others see.

So do your job. Anticipate things that can put your team in a bind. Prevent problems before they surface. Create a plan to handle emergencies that arise despite your best efforts and make sure that plan lets you stay focused on the right things.

Because you are what you do. And you don’t want to be an overpaid individual contributor when your team needs a leader.


To learn more about how to be a successful manager, read Don’t Be a Dick Manager: The Down & Dirty Guide to Management. It’s the management training you never got, available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com. The audiobook is available from AmazonAudible and iTunes.

Do you think you might be a dick manager? Take the quiz!