The Paradox of I’ll Do It

I define paradox as two opposing or seemingly conflicting views, ideas or perspectives that actually co-exist, and I’ve found that paradox (and the willingness to embrace the reality of paradox) is critical to navigating your life generally and your leadership specifically. Today, I want to talk about the paradox of “I’ll do it” – specifically, the ways that saying “I’ll do it” can demonstrate leadership and the ways it can demonstrate a lack of leadership. Your ability to discern the difference in your day-to-day interactions, communication and choices will be a critical factor in your leadership journey.

Let’s start with an ancient story – the story of David and Goliath (I Samuel 17). When David accepted the challenge and took on Goliath, he essentially said “I’ll do it.” This act of “I’ll do it” was not only courageous but also demonstrated David’s leadership in the moment. Why leadership? Because the Israelites were in a serious and almost desperate situation and they needed a leader to take on a seemingly impossible task. While David seemed like an unlikely candidate for the job (he was young, inexperienced in battle and merely a shepherd), David had valuable experience (he had killed a lion and a bear that had threatened his flock) and was blessed with unique gifts and skills with a slingshot. In other words, the Israelites were looking for the right person for the job in this unique situation, and David was that person. This was leadership.

In contrast, leadership has become mistakenly associated with being the person that always says “I’ll do it.” Whenever something needs to be done and no one else volunteers to do it, we raise our hand and say “I’ll do it” believing that this is leadership. On the contrary, while being the “I’ll do it” person can be valuable to the team or organization, it can also limit and hold back the team and organization (which is contrary to leadership). In this context, leadership often requires you to embrace the silence and allow others to step up and do it. Another corollary of this concept is the need for leaders to become comfortable with the silence, rather than always filling it with more information or with the “I’ll do it.”

Think about the meetings when someone is looking for a volunteer. After a moment or two of silence after the ask is made, someone (usually the same person) steps up and says “I’ll do it.” Alternatively, whoever is leading the meeting (and asking for a volunteer) will get anxious and assign the task or mission to someone (again, usually the person they can trust most to get things done). Perhaps you’re the “I’ll do it” person in your organization, and you regularly say “I’ll do it” when asked to take something on. What’s often more valuable in these moments is leadership in the form of staying quiet, allowing the silence and saying “no” unless you are the right person with the right skills and gifts for that unique situation.

Admittedly, the silence can be uncomfortable for everyone, and that’s one element of leadership. Leaders embrace the silence and are willing to allow it to linger in order to create enough discomfort with the team to spark the leadership of and in others. If you (or someone else) is always saying “I’ll do it,” then the rest of the team is denied the opportunity to step up in their own leadership and doing. If leadership typically involves stretching yourself and being uncomfortable (which it does), then allowing others the opportunity to be uncomfortable and to stretch themselves is an act of your own leadership. This leadership often requires you to be silent and to choose NOT to say “I’ll do it.”

Thus, the paradox. Whether “I’ll do it” is leadership (like David) or a lack of leadership (just more doing) is a matter of context and discernment, both of which are vital leadership skills. The next time you feel the urge to say “I’ll do it,” ask yourself these five questions:

  • Is this leadership or just more doing?
  • Is saying “I’ll do it” the right thing for me, the team and the organization (short and long term)?
  • Am I saying “I’ll do it” because of my unique gifts and skills, and because the organization needs my leadership in this moment?
  • Am I saying “I’ll do it” to fill the silence or because no one else wants to do it?
  • By saying “I’ll do it,” am I helping to grow the team and individual people or keeping other team members from growing as leaders?

Your answers to these questions will help you to discern whether your “I’ll do it” is leadership or the absence of leadership. There are rarely right or wrong answers, but your leadership will be most impactful if you’re willing to ask these types of questions in the moment, to answer them honestly, and to embrace the silence without filling it with your “I’ll do it.” Welcome to leadership and just another day in paradox!

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