Leadership Perspectives

Overwhelming workload

Coping with overwhelm? Keep learning.

June 30, 2015

Ever watch what happens as the workload keeps building, complexity keeps increasing, and leaders try to cope by working harder and faster? Work hours extend and anxiety levels rise, but productivity does not necessarily increase as leaders frantically attempt to simply keep up.

Hard work is not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to work hard, but continuing to put in more effort without stopping to self-assess and self-develop is simply a recipe for exhaustion, burnout, and defeat.

I liken it to engaging in any trade or sport without checking and maintaining your equipment and investing in upgrades. Know any Grand Prix cyclists trying to complete the race with their old 3-speed bike? (Okay, maybe you don’t know any Grand Prix cyclists at all. But you get the point.)

Stephen Covey, in his classic book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talked about the exhausted wood cutter who spent five hours trying to cut down a tree with a dull saw but claimed to be too busy to sharpen his saw. Similarly leaders can become myopic in their attempts to simply manage their environments, without stopping to invest in their own personal tool kits.

That’s dangerous. Leadership is so much more than the management of day-to-day tasks. Developing the self-awareness, emotional intelligence, influence, decision making, systems awareness, and vision required for true leadership requires a more holistic view and an investment in one’s own capacity to lead. Here are just four things that you can do immediately to begin to build that capacity.

1. Read a good book. I have friends who make it a policy to read at least one business or self-help book a month and they are some of the most thoughtful self-aware leaders that I know. You can access some terrific books on a variety of topics at the Peeler Associates website. Most are quick reads that pack a lot into a leader’s limited reading time.
2. Obtain feedback. There are a plethora of formal tools on the market for obtaining feedback. Two that we use at Peeler Associates are The Leadership Circle Profile™ and the DiSC 363 for Leaders®. We also use a narrative 360 review process to interview stakeholders and obtain feedback. You can also obtain your own feedback by simply asking the right questions. (To learn how, see my earlier post on Seven questions to get the feedback you need). Regardless of the process that you use, it’s important to receive feedback well and use it to discover your greatest learning opportunities.
3. Work with a Coach or Mentor. Coaches use many tools including acute listening, powerful questioning and constructive feedback to help leaders achieve specific learning objectives. Good coaches will always work on your agenda and help you develop in the ways that are important to you. Employing more of a “been there, done that, approach” mentors, strong in the leadership competencies that the leader wants to develop can also be valuable.
4. Become a powerful observer. You can learn from role models even if you aren’t working with one as an official mentor. Look for those that you admire for the abilities that you would like to develop. Whether you want to develop the ability to speak well, handle difficult people, work strategically, or something else, watching how someone else who is skillful does it can be valuable.

While these are not new or unique learning methods, they are activities that leaders tend to neglect when they fall into the habitual pattern of feeling that they are too busy to “sharpen the saw.”

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