With Corporate America as volatile as it’s ever been, how are you supposed to have any energy left for yourself or your family when you go home at the end of the day? Here are four tips to help you avoid leadership burnout.
It’s true that executive teams are putting more and more pressure on leaders and that we are experiencing unprecedented change in the workplace. But, how much pressure do you put on yourself to:
- Engage and motivate your direct reports every day in spite of a meaningful lack of strategic direction or focus?
- Continually challenge your team to find innovative ways to do more with less?
- Enthusiastically take on an ever-increasing number of projects?
All of the above are key elements of being a good leader, and on the good days you probably take everything in stride. On the bad days, though, it may be all you can do to help everyone else just hang in there, let alone yourself.
If you have started to dream about your job every night, if your attention on weekends is tangled up in problem-solving and focused more on the upcoming week than the present moment, here are four tips you may find useful:
1. Whatever is happening at work is just a point in time: Many of the women in my mother-in-law’s church have been known to say “this too shall pass” when life is just too much to bear. It helps to remember that whatever stress we are experiencing in any given moment really is just a point in time.
2. 9s beat 8s, so apply the Span of Control Model to your current situation: “Sher, your major problem is that you keep forgetting 9s beat 8s every time in poker. You are an 8. It doesn’t matter what you think about this situation. The 9s have all the power. You have no control, and this is not part of your job. So, give up, and move on.” Rick a director of Human Resources, was a good colleague of mine. I have never forgotten his advice.
Earlier in my career, I took on more extra work than I ever needed to. I did it because I believed that if I just worked hard enough, long enough, talked to the right people, and didn’t give up I could make a bigger difference. Sometimes it made sense to take on this extra work. Other times it didn’t, and my energy was misspent instead of focused. I would go home stressed and unable to forget about work. Then, a friend drew the Span of Control model on a napkin and explained it to me one night over dinner. (See figure above.*)
When we truly focus on what is within our area of responsibility first, then judiciously consider where we might influence a situation—and quit stressing about those things that are totally outside of our control, our jobs are much more manageable–and so is our stress level.
3. Know when to fold: I’d been hired to build a new department at GE, and I’d just hired a new manager. About a month after she started, she came into my office to tell me an opportunity had come up for her to move into another field, and she had to take it. She apologized, but I understood. The problem I faced was that our business group was under pressure to control hiring—not exactly a hiring freeze—but close. I knew that if I built my case and asked my CEO for permission to replace her, he would probably say yes. I also knew he would not be happy about it. On the other hand, I was charged with building a strong new department. I wanted to do the best job I could for my business unit, so I was pretty stressed out about what to do.
Finally, I went in and explained to the CEO that the new manager I’d hired the month before had a new opportunity. I told him that given the current hiring situation, I was proposing that we hold off on replacing her. I explained that I could still deliver on all the key projects, and that some of the nice-to-have projects could easily be put on hold for a few months.
Two fantastic things happened as a result. First, all the stress I’d put on myself about having to fight to build this new department was alleviated by the support I got from all my executive team mates as they worked with me to prioritize what really needed to happen. Nine months later, my department had accomplished everything we’d promised. The second good thing happened when the CEO called me into his office. He said “I want to thank you, Sher, for giving up your open position. It was a stressful time for our business unit, and now things are back on track. Your team has done a great job this year, and I want you to think about how you want to build your department.” That day he told me I could design the department in any way I wished and that he would support any hires I wanted to make.
4. Learn how to go with the flow: This phrase was quite popular in the 1970s. One day not too long ago, a friend of mine asked me if I really knew what it meant. My reply was something along the lines of “it means that you have no power and to accept where the river of life chooses to send you.” His response was an immediate, “Nope. What it really means is that you have to use all your experience and talent to dip your paddle in the flow of what is happening and begin to move in the direction you really want to go.” Thought provoking, isn’t it?
What helps me most when times are stressful at work, when I think if I work a little longer or a little harder, is to remember what’s really important. There will always be another crisis or a new challenge at work. In fact, there will always be another job. What we all have to remember, is that work is just a part of our lives. It isn’t our whole life. What matters is our family and our friends. In the end, no one can control how much we work, how much we sacrifice for our jobs but us.
*Note: I have not able to find the source for this model. If anyone knows of it, please send me a note.