Don't focus on the do's and don'ts

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Holbert
  • 84th Combat Sustainment Wing
A few years ago I came across an insightful cell phone advertisement in a newspaper. The message was there are do-ers and there are don't-ers. The advertiser's simple implication that do-ers are good and don't-ers are bad, this caught my attention. It made me think about my own biases.

My bet is any one of you can identify the don't-ers. They talk about what they are going to do but never seem to do it. They ask more questions than they can ever imagine answering. They are usually not around when we need them or when a task needs to be done. For all we know they are in some hidden place dreaming. These people seem totally risk adverse. They leave voice mails when they know you are not there. They can write e-mails or papers recapping an issue, or covering generalities about a topic, and they are very fluent in 'office speak.' But at the end of the day, they fall short in the one language that counts - the language of action. Surely you know one of these people. They are the untapped resources in many organizations because they are often ignored, or worse, treated poorly.

On the other hand there are the do-ers. A do-er is one who has the answers to questions. Even hard questions like "What did you do today, or how did you serve our deployed Airmen today?" They are the ones who are moving in every direction, getting things done. For them, the phone or the computer are tools for clear communication and information flow, not just a way to chat or surf the web. These are the people who strive to learn, to grow and stretch their abilities. These are also the folks who might tend to react in a knee-jerk fashion because of their quest for action.

While I'm not sure if you'd agree with the categories of people mentioned in the cell phone advertisement, let me draw some connections. We are Team Hill, composed of all kinds of people and many may fit the definitions of do-ers and don't-ers. While our personal perspectives may lead us to view these distinctions differently, perhaps we can agree that there are people who seem to get a lot done, and there are people who seem to have many ideas and opinions about how to get things done. Seldom does a single person have all the traits necessary to be the ultimate employee.

Regardless of viewpoints or perspectives, both do-ers and don't-ers have something in common -- they both benefit from a supervisor. More than just a supervisor, they need a leader to aim them in a common direction, and foster a synergy that allows the best traits of the do-ers and don't-ers to be brought to bear on the mission. Many supervisors may want only do-ers, and often struggle with the don't-ers. But consider this, don't-ers didn't get that way overnight. More importantly, is the perception of them as don't-ers accurate? These individuals may be the ones with the best ideas. Moreover, perhaps their perceived negative behavior can be refocused -- by a supervisor, a mentor or simply a wingman.

The reality is we need do-ers who are working to a master plan, but we also need others on the team who are the thinkers, the ponderers, and yes, even the worriers -- those who might ask the unorthodox question or imagine bigger and better solutions. When a varied team has a leader who moves them as one, amazing things can happen. Yes, the team can improve a process, they can meet or beat the planned project schedule and costs can be reduced, or capability can skyrocket. This can happen because of the synergy gained from drawing on each team member in some way, to create a solution that is greater than the sum of the parts.

So, a key point the cell phone ad missed is that rather than categorizing people and applying sterotypes about do-ers and don't-ers, it might be best to look for the strengths in each person. Leaders draw on such strengths and wean people of their fears and weaknesses.

Team Hill will continue to get better as long as each team member contributes. We must all seek out leaders and co-workers who will drive us to take action, even if it involves risks. The warfighters we serve risk their lives nearly every day. Regardless of our personality types, we owe them nothing less than doing whatever it takes to lower those risks by keeping weapon systems fully mission capable.