Doing vs. Managing – the Queen Bee vs. Drone syndrome

19 Feb


This last couple of weeks many folks asked me – so why did you slow down on the blogging? Problem was, Tulasi, my Woman Friday for 7 plus years; the queen of our household; my children’s mom and dad, sister and teacher, friend, philosopher, guide – left – to get married.

tulasi prem

While this in itself is great news for all of us, and we really lived it up at the wedding; it did leave me with a household to run…

Like any good manager, I have a warm pipeline of resources to backfill any attrition – in this case, my erstwhile second in command Rupa got a promotion, and has now taken over running the household – and I will “decrease household running cost” by hiring resources for cleaning chores lower down the value chain, thereby “also guaranteeing job rotation”.

Whilst all these HR practices were playing out in their usual way in our house, I did have to spend a fair amount of time on different from usual activities – cooking/ cleaning/ grocery shopping/ advising gardener/ pet care ( this last is a LONG story – of how we thought we had 2 girl rabbits named Sita and Gita, and one fine day 7 really ugly looking things plopped out of one of those girls – sending our entire household into a googling tizzy – on care of newborn rabbits. My nephew Dhruv and daughter Riddhi were most active. For those interested, this one is a good resource. Rabbits had to be renamed Ram and Sita) – that I had not even touched – for a good 7 years.

Made me think of the whole “doing” vs. “getting done” thing, and how your attitude towards this split in your management tasks affects your behavior, your people policies, your time management, your pleasure in your work, your motivation and ultimately your success..

BG Krishna instructs Arjuna

I think “doing” is kind of ingrained in us Indians – even our epics teach us the value of “doing” – the Bhagwad Gita’s most famous quote by far is the one which loosely translated means – keep focused on your work, don’t worry about the reward. karmanyewadhikarasthey ma faleshu kadachana. (this being Lord Krishna’s sage advise to Arjuna as he was agonizing over fighting and killing his own kith and kin)

My mom is a prime example – she just can NOT understand our slavery to our domestic help. She has had a speedily revolving door on her help – because she sets high standards, and is not afraid of managing the daily chores herself if she doesn’t have anyone to help – at nearly 70 (the nearly is really important if I don’t want her to skin my hide!) she sweeps, swabs, dish-washes, cooks, disposes garbage AND goes for her 5 miler walks everyday when required. The good part – her house is always sparkling clean and her food is always mummy yummy. The not so good part – she pretty much kills herself doing all this, not leaving a lot of “me” time for her.

In sharp contrast is the principle of outsourcing non core activities – which led to the whole BPO/ even IT boom in India. That one says – do what you NEED to do, the rest – get someone else to do – someone who is more qualified, probably does it faster better cheaper than you and therefore optimize overall cost time and resources

But most of us essentially vary the ‘doing” vs “getting done” or “managing” bit in different degrees – and this proportion of one vs. the other actually changes as we rise in the corporate hierarchy.


That actually makes sense – this inverted triangle is good sound horse sense. I think the problem comes when we do too much of one to the exclusion of the other. Essentially, what I’m saying is that there has to be a limiting factor at each end of the spectrum – so, there IS an optimal range – which determines the min-max of “doing” just as it does of “managing”, that we would be wise to stay within.

I know of senior leaders who are so enchanted by their “doing” – that they don’t learn to delegate – and, more importantly, therefore cannot/ will not be able to pay attention to “higher order” tasks that need to be done by someone in their role – so, it’s the Vice President who still does/ looks at every report that needs to be sent out, hence not spending enough time on core business development or people issues. Now this syndrome – the “doer” syndrome in general will happen when the manager is almost “scared” to graduate to “managing” – his comfort level is in the “doing” – it’s stuff that he was/is good at – that’s why after all he kept getting promoted, and he has probably now reached his Peter’s level of incompetence. (This is a fascinating theory – for those who would like to know more, click here)

Ofcourse, the flip side of the coin – and probably more prevalent is the manager who has so lost touch with “doing” that she is only “managing”. Reminds me of when my daughter once asked me – mom, if all you are doing is telecons and meetings, when do you actually work? I had to explain to her how at the meetings we were actually taking decisions – so it was the culmination of a lot of work, and also therefore qualified as work.

This is reality, right? – at senior levels, you generally manage resources who manage resources who maybe manage more resources who actually do the work – much like the beehive. But you know, then, one has to have really well developed systems to a) enable the worker bees to judge those components of the “work” which need to be showcased to the next level – and/ or escalated as needing help; or b) at the Queen bee level a very fine knowledge of the work and the people involved to sniff out that which needs attention/ correction/ decision…

Corporate science and all, this is NOT a small deal – it is WHY the cadre of MBAs was born and grew. And despite the armies of MBAs, it is still not foolproof – witness the hours spent trouble shooting/ fire fighting rather than doing proactive business development.

I think it may be worthwhile therefore for even senior management to keep in touch with the “core” of the work – there SHOULD be elements of your organisation’s scope of activities that you can do better than most others – and, if those elements are changing – then you jolly well stay abreast of those changes. Its why doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants have to clock hours at “continuing education”. This enables one to be able to fine tune that antenna or, at the enterprise level, those systems that ensure smoother running of the organization, very often enabling value addition via innovative ideas (one doesn’t have to rely on a think tank or “lab” all the time, you know!).

But, more importantly, it helps engender respect amongst your subordinates for your abilities. Its like, in my aerobics classes, I am always more motivated to work-out harder since I see Niru the trainer herself “do” all the really complicated steps – and – better than anyone else! If she just stood and instructed – I don’t think I would have seen the energy I see/ feel in the class (I have seen dance and swimming classes for my kids where the coaches have managed by gesticulation! – those classes were really short lived, as you can imagine!).

Finally, I think for folks used to dealing all the time with earth shattering, world shaking decisions and situations, its almost a “relief” at times to get back to the basics of “doing” – honestly, I used to LOVE brainstorming sessions when folks said – can we figure out how to evolve this framework for a client?

On the other hand, if you don’t “do”, sometimes its almost a negative – someone told me a few months ago, “Sangita, in this company, the minute someone becomes an AVP – you can’t ask them how to do work – their standard answer is – “go figure it out yourself”. After all, I already tried figuring it out myself – I couldn’t and that’s why I went to him! I don’t know whether they forget/ they are too scared to do it, or they just don’t think its worth their while!”

So there you have it – coaching vs. empowerment / doing vs. managing / drone vs queen…. There is no way you can be both fully – and its not wise to be one at the expense of the other.

Maybe this strikes at the root of the dignity of labor question? Its infra-dig to “do” and better to “manage”? Tulasi’s new husband told me with a really fine sneer on his face – “she won’t do “this kind of work” – ie, household chores, any longer – we will train her in tailoring, and she will do that”

Which means, I will be without her – and have to spend time and energy training and transitioniong the new help. In addition, Ram and Sita gave birth to their second litter of 11 babies – heaven help me – I think they are headed to the Ghosts of Ram-Sita Future :(! (see picture! )



11 Responses to “Doing vs. Managing – the Queen Bee vs. Drone syndrome”

  1. Punit Joshi February 19, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    mommy suck up…

    • MK February 19, 2013 at 10:04 am #


  2. Priya Venkataraman February 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    I would like to make the difference in situations. I feel “doing” works well- the mundane relieves stress and helps focus!!! This works great at home. At work, sometimes hiding in transactions does not help would like to make the difference in situations. I feel “doing” works well- the mundane relieves stress and helps focus!!! This works great at home. At work, sometimes hiding in transactions does not help in sharpening thinking skills

    • joshsang February 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      yes of course. the ideal mix is different degrees of doing vs managing per yr role/ hierarchy level. – look at the triangles :). just dont do one to the exclusion of the other

  3. wendynewell February 19, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    That is a TON of plopping baby bunnies!

    • joshsang February 21, 2013 at 7:36 am #

      yeah, you’re telling me!

  4. morgansherrah February 21, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Long life the queen bee, they are like little CEO’s

    • joshsang February 21, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      they certainly hv the attitude 🙂


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