Monday, September 5, 2011

Being a Leader or a SuperDoer...


A couple of weeks a go, my new leader (only of about 6 months, but have worked together since 2005) made an interesting observation about our leadership culture. He said "Are we creating leaders or SuperDoers...because it looks like SuperDoers..."

I thought this was an incredibly powerful statement that has really caused me to reflect about my own leadership skills in the last 10 years...specifically back to my leadership journey that started on September 11th, 2001.

At the time, I was a U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer stationed in Bahrain supporting Commander U.S. Naval Central Command on the watchfloor. Recently chosen for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, I was doing what I do best...intelligence analysis, while working with my watch team. I remember it being a little after 3pm local time when CNN interrupted our normal routine with what was happening back in the U.S. It was certainly an eye opening day as we dealt with activities in U.S. and starting to get our resources and plans in place even then.

Unknown to me until the next day was the fact that the plan that hit the Pentagon took out Naval Intelligence's premiere watchcenter named Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Plot (CNO-IP). The loss of life, while significant for the U.S. that day, saw our Naval Intelligence family loose eight people that day. A huge and devastating loss that included the Officer-in-Charge, Commander Dan Shanower, Assistant Officer-in-Charge Lieutenant Commander Otis "Vince" Tolbert (A classmate of mine), and six others.

I had successfully built a reputation during my career upto that point as an analyst and high performer, that in August 2002, I got a call asking me to change my orders back to the U.S. and take orders to CNO-IP as the Assistant Officer-in-Charge working for Commander Robert "Bob" Rupp as the new Officer-in-Charge. We would be the permanent replacements for those volunteers filling the roles. It was a great opportunity and one that I looked forward to with great anticipation.

Upon arrival just two weeks after Commander Rupp, what we found was a group still in shock from the events from September 11th, 2001. There were three distinct groups of people...those in the building that had survived, those that were part of CNO-IP, but not in the building, and then those that were thrown into the breach after the tragic loss of life. What this group needed was leadership from me specifically. As I reflect...I think what I really did was become a SuperDoer because that is where I was comfortable.

This is not unlike many organizations where we identify people that are excellent performers because of their technical expertise. They may not be adequately prepared for these roles and instead of being leaders and leading...they revert back to what they are comfortable with which is being a SuperDoer. For many they may not even know the difference...

For me...I did and made the changes in my leadership capability to be a leader and not a SuperDoer. While I continue to learn much about leadership and myself as a leader everyday...I have learned so many valuable lessons as we approach the 10 year anniversary of September 11th, 2001.

1. Humility as a Leader - I could have been much more of a leader when at CNO-IP. I know that now. As leaders, we all need to understand that our roles as leaders are about leading people and understanding the impact we have on people as leaders. While I haven't asked those who I led at CNO-IP...I would think that I could have been much better.

2. What got you there won't take you forward - Being a SuperDoer is great...but that will not take you or your team forward in the future. Being able to assess your leadership capabilities and gaps is vitally important in your metamorphosis from that role into a leader.

3. Develop others as SuperDoers and create Leaders - Once you make that transition to a leadership role...your job is to develop and create SuperDoers and help those few with leadership potential to make that transition from SuperDoer to leader.

I have been extremely blessed to be able to reflect on my leadership experiences and evolve my leadership skills and be a better leader of people. I think it is what I owed those I have led and those we lost ten years ago...I thank them for opening my eyes.


J. Keith Dunbar is a Global Talent Management Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change...He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter: JKeithDunbar
LinkedIn: J. Keith Dunbar
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Blog: DNA of Human Capital

The opinions or views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Defense Intelligence Agency.


  1. Thanks for another thought provoking read. While your first two lessons-learned hit the nail on the head, you drove it home for me with your third point--Develop others as SuperDoers and create Leaders.

    Perhaps the answer to the question, “Are we creating leaders or SuperDoers…?” is YES!


  2. Thanks for comments...our responsibility as leaders goes way beyond just having a desk and saying you manage and lead have to do something for the greater good of the organzation and most importantly the people who follow you. Without them you are not are just another weak signal in the background noise.

    Thanks for the comments...


  3. Thanks for the lessons. Indeed, being a leader is more valuable than being a "SuperDoer." Leadership also demands more responsibility, and a lot of effort is required to be one.

  4. Thanks for the comments Alexander...leadership is a great responsibility. More people need to treat it that way vice as a privilage...

  5. I agree with a lot of what you're saying here but it could do with more detail. They stayed away in droves.

  6. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I've truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  7. A true leader should not be a SuperDoers because no one expects them to do everything on their own and still carry the weight of the business. I don't think anyone can. They should act as motivators and as guides for the business. Like you said, being a SuperDoer is great but it would not take you anywhere because a business is a multi-faceted structure that it is run by hundreds of people; from the top dog, down to the smallest company roles.