Are You a Workhorse or a Showhorse?

“Are you a workhorse or a showhorse?”

That was the question one emerging leader was asked by her boss’s boss. “A workhorse,” was her initial answer, but it got her thinking that spending all of her time with her head down, delivering work was not the ideal career move. At the same time, she didn’t want to be known as a self-promoting showhorse. Or, as she put it, “All style and no substance.”

Workhorse versus showhorse: Which one are you?

You might be asking yourself: what’s the difference between the two?

Well, a workhorse chooses work assignments that are a good match for her strengths. A showhorse goes after high-visibility assignments.

A workhorse avoids the spotlight. A showhorse revels in it.

A workhorse spends the majority of her time with her head down, working hard, delivering valuable results to the organization. A showhorse spends more time networking, schmoozing, and promoting her accomplishments.

A workhorse is likely to be overlooked and underutilized. A showhorse is more likely to be resented by her peers, and may get thrown into assignments that are beyond her capabilities.

So, which style is the right one for you? As an aspiring leader, you’ll need to be both. So it’s not about being one or the other, but about balancing both styles for the perfect fit. Here’s how to get the balance just right: I recommend aiming to be 80% workhorse and 20% showhorse.

Finding the balance

Why don’t more people achieve this optimal blend of the two? Well, the short answer is that we’re creatures of habit. The longer answer is that it takes more time and thought to break out of your established pattern of behavior. Being a successful 80-20 work-horse/showhorse requires a more nuanced approach than simply “doing what you’ve always done”.

As an 80% workhorse, you’ll gravitate toward assignments that are a great match for your strengths. You’ll focus on delivering what you say you’ll deliver, and go above and beyond to deliver value in support of your organization’s goals.

But don’t stop there – be a 20% showhorse as well. Let people know what you’ve done and are capable of doing. Step away from your desk from time to time to build relationships and cultivate influential mentors and sponsors. Speak up frequently in meetings and on conference calls, and be vocal about your value and accomplishments. Volunteer for assignments that fully utilize your strengths, but also stretch you, tapping into your potential. So don’t just do the work. “Show” it as well.

Need a checklist of what to look for in an ideal “workhorse/showhorse” gig? Before you say “yes” to or volunteer for your next role or assignment, make sure it’s one where you can:

• Make use of your strengths

• learn new skills

• deliver high-value results

• expand your network

• be noticed by potential sponsors

• showcase your accomplishments.

Remember, you’re not looking to show off, but to show the best of what you’re capable of, so take don’t be shy: take on stretch assignments and challenge yourself to knock them out of the park!

Does your current role allow you to be part workhorse and part showhorse? If not, make sure that your next role or project lets you blend the two.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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