With pockets of the for-profit economy starting to move in the right direction, and with non-profits feeling the pinch of curtailed state spending, many people in leadership positions are feeling burned out. Having struggled through the last two years of economic uncertainty, they come to this point of 2011 worn to the core, knowing that they need to lead even better than they did during the last eighteen months.
Many executives recognize that now is the time to “to transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future,” referencing the words of Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005. They understand that they must “describe our joint future vividly and precisely.” And yet they are overwhelmed most days with operational silos and with people showing strategic blindness. Furthermore, every where they turn there is a crisis that needs their attention. In short, many leaders are feeling scattered and exhausted.
Every week now, I meet more and more of these people in one to one executive coaching sessions who have barely anything left to give to the challenges before them. Battered by stupidity and complexity, they are frustrated, angry and tired. They want solutions and all they keep getting are more and more problems.
Routinely during the last couple of weeks, they ask me two questions: “Am I the only one who is experiencing this?” and “What should I do?” To the former, I answer “No; most if not all leaders right now are feeling baked, roasted, broasted and fried. Some more than others. It is part of the new normal called being busy.” As to the later, the answer takes time to explain.
First, when worn to the core, we need to pause and remember the words of Kevin Cashman, namely “We lead by virtue of who we are.” With leadership as “authentic self-expression,” another Cashman observation, we must accept the fact that we can not give what we do not have. If we are to provide clarity, then we must have clarity. If we are to provide guidance and direction, then we must have direction. If we are to provide fresh perspective, then we must have fresh perspective. The first step is to acknowledge we have a problem. If we lack clarity and direction on the inside, there is little chance we can provide it on the outside with any degree of authenticity.
The second step is to rebuild inner clarity and direction. This inner recovery process can only take place if we are willing to give ourselves permission to rest. It takes energy to lead and right now few people have lots of energy in reserve. When caught in an endless cycle of “go”, we can not always be the leaders we need to be, people who help the organization stay true to it’s strategic nexus, the sum of it’s core philosophy and strategic plan. When regular rest takes place, i.e. more rather than less evenings each week when work is put on the back burner and family, friends and self come to the forefront, we generate a deeper sense of awareness and purpose, two vital elements to recovery.
The third step is to be more disciplined in our planning. “The problem with the future,” notes Arnold H. Glasow, “is that it usually arrives before we’re ready for it.” Therefore, I tell more and more people these days to take charge of their calendar. “Personal leadership,” writes Stephen Covey, “is cultivating the wisdom to recognize our need for renewal and to ensure that each week provides activities that are genuinely recreational in nature.” One way to prepare for the future and to recover from the past is to follow Covey’s time management advice: “Make specific appointments with yourself to work on goals, treat an appointment with yourself as you’d treat an appointment with anybody else. Plan around it. Channel other activities and requests to different time blocks. If that appointment has to be changed, reschedule it immediately. Give yourself the same consideration you would give anyone else.”
In a time period when more and more leadership is required, acknowledge there is a problem, rebuild inner clarity and direction, and be more disciplined in your planning. Just remember that the road to recovery doesn’t have a fast lane. We have to take it step by step.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257