Are you a doer or a thinker – and why does it matter?
I was fortunate to be mentored, long before the idea became fashionable, by Nat Solomon, former Chairman of Crown Leisure plc and Tottenham Hotspur FC and childhood friend of my late father. Nat advised me in the early stages of my career, encouraged me to apply to Harvard Business School, for which he wrote my reference and guided me when I faced career crossroads. Are you a doer or a thinker was his question. It is one which I have asked myself – and my coaching clients – many times over the subsequent years.
When Nat asked me, I responded that I am a doer who can think as I was someone who was always busy organising, yet deeply thoughtful. With greater experience and insight, I now question whether that assessment was correct, or even if such a classification can remain static throughout a career. Nat suggested the question as a way of determining what kinds of roles would be most satisfying for me, as if it was a binary choice. Since that time, however, my experience and that of many of my coaching clients is that such a choice isn’t always available. The majority of early career corporate roles are normally designed for doers. Even as a manager, when the role is less task driven, the manager is still responsible for the delivery of tasks, albeit through others. In the corporate environment, the requirement to think, whether strategically or organisationally only normally appears at senior management and leadership levels.
For people who have succeeded in their careers as consummate doers, this aspect of the transition to leadership can be the most challenging and is a rich area for coaching work. In contrast, those who are primarily thinkers can struggle to find their place, initially, in the corporate environment, unless it is one which can accommodate their way of contributing. I’ve known many entrepreneurs who solved this dilemma by creating their own organisations and hiring doers to implement the great ideas that they generate.
I’ve now understood that I’m naturally a thinker who was able to adapt and masquerade effectively as a doer for many years in the corporate world. But it required a huge effort for me to function effectively in the corporate environment and created a lot of personal stress. I am far more myself and able to contribute when I act as an adviser, coach, facilitator or sounding board where my reflective nature is invaluable. Nevertheless, my early experience of corporate doing roles was vital as it enables me to understand and empathise with client challenges, regardless of whether they are doers, or thinkers.
To learn more about my work and to ask about coaching support, please get in touch.