I’m recovering from a recent case of overdrive. For most of last year, I was pushing myself through a perfect storm of demands: leading a growing business and all its growing busyness, a house move after 12 years from Kentucky to Charlottesville, and many other personal obligations, including the settling of my late mother’s estate.
Day after day, week after week, weekend after weekend I worked; but the work was never done! I thought I was managing everything well. And I kept telling myself, it ALL has to get done.
I paid the price mentally, emotionally, and physically. I lay awake at night thinking through an endless to-do list. Poor sleep led to fatigue, forgetfulness, and a lack of focus. I left my laptop at a hotel in Charleston. I left my credit card at a restaurant 45 minutes from home. I fell and cracked several ribs. I got sick twice in the span of six weeks. In ways, it seemed anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. I was driving myself into a downward spiral with a bad ending but didn’t realize it.
The worst part was that I strained relationships with those I love, and who support me the most – beginning with my wife, Marta. Selfish with my time and attention, I was neither fully present nor patient for her, and I didn’t give her the care and consideration she deserves, especially during a season that was very stressful for her too.
I finally reached the breaking point just before the holidays. In a fog of fatigue and frustration, this message finally got through: “Rob, you can’t keep going like this.”
Every good leader I know is busy. But what happens to leaders who put their heads down and never look up? In the early going they deceive themselves, believing they can operate long-term in overdrive without consequences.
But non-stop work eventually leads to selfish behaviors and unhealthy choices. Over the years, leaders have told me that when they get in this mode, they can struggle with drinking too much, eating too much, and even being unfaithful to their spouse. They subconsciously justify selfishness with a mindset that says, “I’m working so hard, I deserve this.”
And the drift into this danger zone is subtle.
While these selfish behaviors may provide momentary relief or pleasure, they ultimately degrade the leader’s health, and the health of their most important relationships. Leadership effectiveness gets compromised.
Are you in the danger zone, headed for the danger zone or know another leader who is? If so, here are three steps to pull back.
- Re-orient yourself. Prioritize the most important things – generally, these are the relationships that you want to last long after your work is done.
- Stop doing certain tasks. Let go of the belief that everything has to be done today, and that you are the only one who can do them.
- Delegate other tasks. Give more to existing direct reports and/or hire new staff, to start doing more of the things you stopped doing in #2.
Easy concepts to understand; more difficult to do – I get it! But I’ve been applying them diligently over the past few months, and what a difference they make. Besides having a whole lot more white space on my calendar, I feel more energized with my clients and more present with Marta. I’m back in a healthy zone and I sure want to stay there.
If you are an effective leader, you naturally drive yourself with hard work and achievement. Just be careful of those tough stretches of the journey where healthy drive can slip into overdrive. One of the warning signs: you become a more selfish leader!