You can always find the Operators in any meeting because their foot starts bouncing at minute two. They are shifting around in their chair by minute five. And by minute nine, their thumbs are tapping away furiously on their smartphone answering emails and trying to find someone who will call with an issue urgent enough for the Operator to get out of the meeting. 

Why are they like this? Because Operators get stuff done. Operators accomplish more tasks in a day than the rest of us get done in a week. And somehow, they still feel bad about it because they only completed half of the list they had for the day.

But all of this get-it-done task orientation comes at a price. Operators are prone to burn out and get stuck in the hamster wheel of life, running ever faster but not moving forward. Their hyper-focus on completing the next task can leave little whitespace to work on their growth, skills, and abilities.

Before we get started, if you don’t already know your style, I’d encourage you to take the free Leadership styles quiz

Getting to know the Operator

The truth is, the world wouldn’t turn without Operators. It’s not uncommon for me to work with executive teams who are predominantly Visionaries and Synergists. They have great meetings, brilliant ideas, and exhilarating debate. But then about nothing happens. That is, at least, until they come together for another great meeting. 

Having a meeting doesn’t mean you made a decision.

And making a decision doesn’t mean you took action. 

And just because you took action doesn’t mean you got results.

To get from a great meeting to seeing great results, you have to have great Operators. Operators draw the shortest line from idea to implementation and do it better than anyone. They are the wheels on the road that give us the traction to move forward. 

Unlike Visionaries who like to start and solve, Operators are ruthlessly focused on finishing and fixing. They get the biggest endorphin rush when they check a task off their never-ending to-do list. At that moment, no matter how big or small the task is, the Operator is at their peak. They feel powerful, successful, and efficient. And they are!

Operators are less risk-inclined than the Visionaries they tend to support. They enjoy someone else dealing with all the blank sheet of paper vision stuff and prefer to focus on taking action now. This is also because they are natural-born firefighters. Their attention isn’t drawn to what could be, as much as what isn’t but should be right now. They can be exceptional sales and customer service reps and will excel in any environment that requires action.

Operators love doing things their way. They live by the motto, “Tell me what to do, and then don’t watch.” MacGyver’s is an off the charts Operator. His creations are immensely effective. They get the job done, but they sure aren’t pretty, and we’d probably recommend you not try them out at home.

Operator challenges

The ruthless focus of an Operator and his perfectly functional but not-so-pretty solution can cause considerable challenges in a team environment.

Of all the types, Operators are the least likely to play nice with others. At their worst, they are mavericks who play by their own rules to get their stuff done, no matter what the collateral damage is along the way. They will regularly cut corners and loathe cumbersome protocols and procedures. It is common for Operators to actively avoid meetings and do whatever they can to get out of them, even if that means saying yes with no real intention of actually following through.

Longing to accomplish more, Operators can be impatient with others who are slowing them down or who don’t get as much done as they do. They get annoyed at the Visionary’s constant new stream of ideas that sound like nothing but more work for themselves. They get frustrated by processors whose need for precision and repeatability stands in direct confrontation with the Operator’s style.

Operators often overcommit as they draw their importance and self-esteem from being needed and productive. Also, everything is a custom solution as they rarely slow down long enough to put a repeatable solution in place. Together, all of this makes it incredibly difficult for Operators to delegate. They feel as though they are giving up their value if someone else completes the task. And they tend not to be patient trainers. As their job grows, it is easy for them to become a painful bottleneck while working excessive hours and burning the candle at both ends.

This starts a vicious cycle where the Operator increasingly distances herself from the office. To her, there is no greater productivity killer than a trip to the home office where she will be inundated by everyone who “needs” something from her. This only complicates things, slows down productivity in the company, and breeds resentment on both sides.

Becoming brilliant

Fortunately, none of these ailments are terminal. If you’re an Operator, you can find a whole new level of personal productivity and satisfaction by leaning into a team environment.

And by coming “back into the fold,” the whole team benefits from the Operator’s uncanny ability to cut through the business-BS, get to the heart of the issues, make a decision, and set into motion an action plan to execute. The Operator’s desire to get it done serves as a bridge from the meeting to the real world to ensure meetings generate results, not just more meetings.

To do that, Operators need to show up, focus on results, and commit to the system.

Show up

I cannot overstate the importance of this point. Operators who’ve been running independently and now recognize the problems they are causing for themselves and others need to overhaul their team engagement. Make talking to others a checklist item if you need to, and make sure it happens.

I use the term engage intentionally because merely being physically present but mentally and emotionally disconnected doesn’t work. By engaging earlier in the process, you can be more proactive than reactive, and for an Operator, this is a game-changer. You’ll be able to understand the “why” push toward executable action, challenge the BS and nice-to-haves, and gain greater support and mutual understanding with your team members.

Focus on team-based results

No other style is as result-oriented as the Operator. And in a team environment, this focus is essential. When an Operator can shift his mindset from accomplishing his tasks to the team achieving their goals, they can help push buy-in across the organization, clarify implementation, try out new ideas, and tackle difficult challenges better than anyone. 

When an Operator can shift his mindset from accomplishing his tasks to the team achieving their goals, they can help push buy-in across the organization, clarify implementation, try out new ideas, and tackle difficult challenges… Click To Tweet

It becomes much easier for an Operator leader to delegate and direct. They can take personal value from it when they understand their part in fulfilling the organization’s objectives extends the work of their own hands to the team’s work.

Operators who make this leap tend to become incredible coaches. Their long list of past accomplishments gives them both the wisdom and street cred to focus others on what they need to do to improve their effectiveness and personal productivity. They know the pain of isolation and can offer other Operators the opportunity to avoid those same painful experiences.

Learn to love the system

This is incredibly challenging for strong Operators who built their career and sweat equity coloring outside the lines (because back then, there were no lines). As their leadership and influence grow, their effectiveness is increasingly expressed through the work of others. Make-it-up-as-you-go isn’t a solution that can scale. You have to implement systems and processes. And to do that as a leader, you have to be personally bought in.

Your buy-in will come from several sources. First, you were in the room and had a say when the decision was made. Second, you’ve seen the limits of the old way, and you don’t want to live life that tired again. Third, you recognize no system is perfect, but the right system is far better than no system (or even worse, a system design by Processors with no Operator input). Fourth, as you are thinking in terms of we, not I the pragmatic, practical solution begins to align with a more systematic approach.

Learning to love the system is essential for an Operator. It is one of the most difficult personal transitions that needs to happen. Unfortunately, many Operators limit themselves, their productivity, and their career potential by clinging to “how they do it.” This resistance often becomes unsustainable within an organization, and the Operator is either isolated or removed from the organization.

However, few things inspire me like seeing a healthy Operator leading well and embracing vision, system, and execution. We need more incredible Operator leaders today than ever before!

Going further

If you’d like to continue to develop your Operator leadership gifting, I’d encourage you to take our online course How to be an Exceptional Operator Leader

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and can’t wait to see you become a brilliant operator leader.

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