Vivid memory: I was leading a quartering party (a small advance team that scouts and secures a new place for a command post). After maybe 30 minutes on the ground, comms were up, my initial assessment was done, the key pieces of the perimeter defenses had been sited, and my soldiers were hard at work on site prep. So I moved on to the next priority: crew-served weapon positions. I got an entrenching tool, jumped into the hole with a very surprised soldier, and started digging. When I left the unit, he toasted me as the only Major he had ever seen dig a fighting position.
I intentionally recall that moment, because it reminds me that sometimes I personally need to do the hard thing.You can reap huge credibility dividends if institutional memory includes images of you in the trenches doing the worst jobs.
At a minimum, some of your employees should be able to recall a time when you did those jobs, even if you've been promoted past them. Best is if you can find the time once in a while to put on some work clothes and go get dirty again.
When you do the hard thing, there are some invaluable outcomes:
1. You understand at the gut level what it takes to get the job done. That can only help you plan and resource, as well as be empathetic to your team.
2. On that Us-Them spectrum, you move closer to the Us end of the scale.
3. Your employees are more likely to see you as a hard worker with different tasks than theirs, rather than somebody with a slack job who avoids real work.
4. You get actually get something productive done, which always feels good.
Old school leadership said, “Never ask your people to do something you aren't willing to do yourself.” These days that isn't always practical in the literal sense, but the idea is good. My advice: At least once a quarter, schedule a half day or day to roll your sleeves up and do the hard thing for a while. You'll be a better leader.