When out on the road visiting with clients, I spend a lot of time meeting senior executives in their offices. Some offices are immaculate, dust free work places with every paper, pen and stapler in perfect order and ready for action. Others are filled with stacks of paper and reports on every horizontal surface in the entire room. And some look like the cross between a freshman college dorm room and a sophomore boy’s bedroom. In these, there are piles of paper, a variety of jackets and ties left on chairs, unfinished mugs of coffee, and numerous post it notes about everything on anything where one will stick.
From experience, I know that each of us are doing the best we can given the circumstances before us. I also know that more and more executives are working longer and longer hours with no hope of ever getting caught up. Most just suffer quietly with the burdens of their work. Overwhelmed, they push hard and harder just “to get one more thing done before I head home.” And in this grand electronic era of constant connectivity, I am seeing more and more e-mails later and later at night, or very very early in the morning. Leaders at all levels are getting caught in one simple myth, namely “my job is to get everything done before I rest.”
This mentality of 24/7 leadership is just not working. We are way past the burnout stage. Now, for many, we are deep into bone level exhaustion and soul numbing consequences. Personal lives and families are getting impacted, if not ruined, by people who believe they just have to “get’er done” before they can rest.
First, it is impossible to get everything done now given the flood of connectivity. There will always be more e-mail than time. The internet has not saved us time. It has instead accelerated it and created unrealistic expectations.
Second, at the current pace of change, there is no stabilization but just constant adaptation to continually changing events and systems. Furthermore, anyone’s real or manufactured crisis can upset the apple cart. Therefore, we need, as leaders, to re-learn how to practice self care. Remembering an old adage of my Mother’s, namely “we can not give what we have not got,” it is time to rebuild our own personal foundation. Moving forward, we must lead from a place of clarity and health rather than exhaustion, burn-out or cynicism. This is not easy work but it is important work.
Finally, remembering the words of Kevin Cashman, namely “Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate,” we need to role model a healthier way of leading. If we only rest when the work is done, then we are sending a signal through out the organization which will have a dramatic impact over time at both the strategic and operational levels.
This week, practice healthy self-care. Give yourself permission to rest well and work well. You and your organization will be much better in the short and the long run.