Managing the tension between the Planner and Doer self

Ideas and plans have no place in the head of a leader who wants a legacy of success, not unless those plans are turned into results. The Planner gets excited by challenging goals, but success depends on the Doer’s skills and motivation for the task. Achieving consistent results day in day out requires a leader to manage the Planner-Doer tension.  Only with regular wins we will feel motivated to take on the really big goals that are needed to be truly remarkable leaders.

There are two people who live inside of each of us. The Planner who sees the future and works out what has to be done, and the Doer who will carry out its instructions to the best of its (and our) ability, given the situation within which we find ourselves.

As the day progresses the gap between the two grows ever larger. This is not because we don’t wish to achieve our goals, but rather we find ourselves negotiating our way through external complexities whilst managing our internal verbiage, a balancing act which will encourage or dissuade our efforts, depending on our past experiences in this situation and the amount of energy we have to draw on.

Think back to how you started yesterday. Undoubtedly the Planner in you awoke with specific goals which it expected the Doer to complete by days end. Maybe those goals were even written into a to-do list grouped by activities and there was comfort in the structure. Confidently you started the day only to see it unfold differently to what you expected.

That this is a situation felt by many is unsurprising. Even Mike Tyson said: “Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face.” If boxing, a sport with straight forward rules and limited parties must resort to throwing the plans away, what hope do we have?

Although uncertainties will always occur, and plans may have to fall by the wayside, there are ways that the Planner-Doer arrangement can be improved to make the day more successful.

 Step 1: Set what and why

The first step is to to ensure that the Planner in you has clearly defined outcomes with benefits linked to your long and short term goals. In the same way you provide clear guidance as to the output and benefits to your team, your internal Planner should to the same with your Doer self.

Lack of clarity allows the lizard brain (amygdala) to counterman your instructions. The amygdala is concerned with ensuring your survival. It wants no wasted effort and so will push for status quo where uncertainty prevails.

Step 2: Complete a coaching matrix

The Planner may be over exuberant in setting your goals and unless you have the skills and motivation to fulfil the task needed, it may be setting you up for failure. To limit this risk self assessment of skills and motivation is needed. Use this matrix, place yourself in the appropriate box and take action.

Trusting the Doer: In the top right corner you are excited by a task and highly skilled.  This quadrant is pleasurable. Self talk can build excitement, hence the need to align goals and benefits. With motivation and skill there will be little need for incentive or structure to keep you on track.

Tasks where you can ‘Trust’ yourself are seductive and should be watched for overuse. Too frequent indulgence builds a seditious comfort zone, allowing arrogance and mediocrity to grow. When you find yourself in this quadrant consider whether its time to delegate the task and move onto something bigger.

Supervising the Doer: On the other hand, if your self assessment puts you in the bottom left hand corner, you may wish to bring in external help to keep you on track until your skills are sufficiently developed to self propel. It is not good to push to the limits all the time. You wouldn’t expect a marathon runner to run at high speed every day of the year, it would kill her. An overly zealous leader risks the same fate. Its balance what is needed if results are to be sustained day in and day out.

The coaching matrix helps uncover the best way to manage your Planner – Doer within, so that tasks are undertaken when your skills are sufficient or bought in if needed.  Lack of assessment may result in costly delays which eat into your confidence, and the confidence of the team watching your performance.

Step 3 reflect (anticipate, avoid, adjust)

Reflection increases understanding of the situations that encourage and derail our success.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book Triggers suggests 3 reflective activities:


At the start, forecast what could possibly go wrong and then take action to mitigate. Trial lawyers never ask a question that they don’t know the answer to. Salesmen have considered all the reasons why their buyer may not want to buy before they sit down at the meeting.

When we want something enough we will rise to the occasion and create an environment that will allow us to succeed, so identify the obstacles early. Don’t limit your analysis to big goals. Our day is full of minor details. Problems in these quickly add up to large chunks of wasted day. Uncovering the source of persistent problems is not that difficult if we are prepared to be mindful of our interactions with others.

In Triggers, Goldsmith recounts a situation of Nadeem, head of a multi billion dollar division of a global conglomerate who seemed to have lost his ability to be cool, calm and collected. His actions were impacting his results and his relationship with his team. Uncovering the source of discord was vital, and yet relatively easy. The question was posed “In what situation did Nadeem act like this?” The trigger was found to be his meetings with the Chief Marketing Officer Simon. That was all. By determining the trigger a strategy was created that returned Nadeem to his former equanimity and within 12 months the rocky relationship between Nadeem and Simon was turned into a strong partnership. A simple question with a big result.

Reflecting at end of day on activities and the participants in those activities can isolate the source of persistent problems. One by one these problems should be addressed, to allow for evaluation of the effectiveness of each change.


We may remain in activities that give us pleasure longer than we should, like staying that extra 10 minutes around the water cooler talking about future opportunities, when we should be back at our desk calling important clients.

A quick audit of your daily activities will highlight many activities that you could choose to avoid. Before tossing the avoidable action out with the proverbial bathwater, first ask yourself why you are doing the activity. Our body never does anything without reason, so apply the same tact to yourself that you would to your team.

As a great leader you would never demand that a team member stop an activity before finding out the benefits they gained from it, neither should you ask your Doer to stop without inquiry. Maybe the water cooler is the only place that there is privacy to talk, and your psyche guides you to source non standard information. Maybe the Doer needs a break to recharge. Or maybe it is avoiding a hard task. By asking the question you will get valuable information about what your body needs, and why.


Now that you have anticipated problems and determined what should be avoided you can structure your day with controls that will help you achieve the outcomes you want. Pacing your energy using regular breaks is not a luxury. Schools have 40 minute classes with other breaks for a reason. How long is your optimum attention span?


Treating your internal Planner and Doer as cherished team members is the first step in creating remarkable results. Having clear goals aligned to well articulated benefits is the start of any successful journey and the Planner is key in this.

The Doer comes to the fore when assessing your skills and building motivation to push through the barriers.  Excellence comes with learning new skills and understanding how you act in every circumstance through daily reflection to uncover potential problems and persistent situations. Applying your ideas in a disciplined manner, testing results constantly,  creates an agility in mind and action that separates the mediocre from the remarkable.

Only when you push yourself outside your comfort zone will you be able to start on the really hard goals, the ones to look back on with pride. Pushing yourself to reflect, test and adapt is unremitting for the remarkable leader like you.


Jennifer is a strategy implementation coach who helps leaders turn their strategies into results.

She assists executives and business owners to achieve goals such as improved profit, productivity, leadership skills, business value. Her services are Business and Executive Coaching, Group Facilitation, Strategic Planning, and advising on Board Governance.

 To find out how she can help you, call +61 439 520 182 or email.