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Do Managers Who "Do The Work" Get More Respect and Performance From Employees?

Conventional wisdom says that any manager of people who can do the work they're asking others to do has a leg up on a manager who can't.  Do you buy that?

All things being equal, I think it's true.  If a manager can be active in the type of work going on in his shop to show that he or she is a subject matter expert, I think it's going to allow them to be a more effective coach.

Case in point - Shaka Smart, the 33-year old basketball coach at VCU.  VCU had an improbable run to the Final Four this year, and the video clip below is from their public Final Four practice.  The drill is the "Ironman", where each player has to take a charge, dive for a loose ball and then run/jump to save a ball going out of bounds.  It's a drill used to encourage players to provide more hustle, which in the workplace could be called "discretionary effort".  Which is what you want lots of...

Here's the twist.  To pump up the players, Smart did the drill for the players.  Before the cynic in you comes out with the blades, watch the video and observe the players following Smart around the court as he performs the work.  What you observe could easily be catagorized as "engagement".

Doing the work you ask others to do.  Not all leaders are in the position to do it, but when you can, it's certainly an effective leadership tool.


Connie Costigan

Hey KD, great post - something I think about a lot. I've typically reported to people who do/have done the work, so I've yet to test the assumption that my respect for them might be diminished if they hadn't been in my shoes. But I've observed some really stellar managers who have led teams with far more domain expertise than their leader. A poor manager is going to fail in either scenario.

Chris aka newresource

Nice, I think it matters too. Look at the show "Undercover Boss" getting in the trenches builds respect from the staff, and understanding from the boss. It leads to increase morale and loyality. Now on a personal note my years in the call center, whenever call volume increased and a manager or supervisor would jump on and take calls, the employees loved it! Had so much respect for that person.

Trish McFarlane

Great video. I agree, I'd rather have a leader who can or has done the job. I would argue that the higher you go in leadership, the less that becomes necessary though. For example, a CEO is not going to be an expert in all the areas of the business. So, to a point, I think it matters. Once you reach the most senior levels, as long as you have great leaders in your circle who are experts in their field, you can be the leader without necessarily being able to run the drill. Personally, my hospital President can, and does, do all he can to lead by example and is not afraid to jump in on many of the jobs in the the technical ones. :)


Great comments, this has got to be true. As much benefit as can be derived from this type of leader and his actions, think about what the opposite does. A constant droning about what you should do from someone who has no idea what it takes to do it can bring you down. Especially when they reference doing it "back in the day".


Kris - I think the experience and the ability to demonstrate it are both big advantages. But if a leader cannot leave it at the demonstration, and stay in the engine room too long - that's where it can backfire.

Debbie Brown

Yep- Bravo-

Buzz Rooney

Great post! It connects with the things discussed during last week's HR Happy Hour, too.

I definitely have greater respect and affinity toward managers who can still perform the duties. I'm find myself frustrated and uninspired with those who lose all their skills after spending years behind a desk.


Great post and an incredible video. I had not seen the clip or heard the story of Shaka Smart. I'm impressed. I've always been a big believer in leaders who "walk the talk" and who don't ask their people to do that which they are unable/unwilling to do themselves. Has a bit of 'servant leadership' quality to it that also resonates with me.

Josh Letourneau

I thought the same thing when seeing this video - awesome leadership.

To me, this is more than just being able to do the work. It's about "setting the example". Shaka isn't showing them he can do the drill ... he's showing them how it's supposed to be done. This is huge.

When you set the example, you lead in the most positive way there is.

Skip Weisman

Great blog post and video, thanks for sharing that, I'm always looking for examples of great leadership like this, too. I agree that it is important for leaders to lead the way and show they know what their team members are experiencing and the challenges they are facing.

Empathy and compassion go a long way and having "been there, done that" make it much more genuine.

In my previous career I was the CEO for five different minor league baseball franchises and I was usually the 2nd one at the tarp during rain situations behind our head groundskeeper, and I was always among the first at the field before sunrise the next morning to take the tarp off the field before the grass burned. It was the only way for me to be. Some other of my front office team members didn't act quite the same way and in my eyes were never going to be in line to move up to the next level.

If you liked this article, you may like my recent blog post on "The Myth of Teamwork and There is No "I" in Team" - you can read it here and I'd love your comments. It is the most commented blog post I've ever written:


Couldn't agree more. This applies to all bosses across the board. I work in a school and the principal teaches at least one class a year just to keep "in the trenches". I think its great.


When dealing with the the new generation this is a must. You must prove that you are at least as capable as what you expect and you must prove it.

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