I heard from a business leader last Friday, someone I have done some business with, but who is also a friend. And what started as a quick “hey, how are you” conversation, turned into an hour-long therapy session of venting and asking for advice… in both directions. I was thinking about this conversation for the rest of the weekend, and therefore have decided to start this Monday morning off with some thoughts for all business leaders who might be feeling the same way.
So, yes… today I am writing for you leaders, who are feeling isolated, frustrated and tired. There are a lot of you out there. And the macro message today is “you are not alone.”
Let’s start off with a few irrefutable facts: Leadership is hard. Leadership can be lonely. Leadership is often exhausting. And the more senior you are inside your organization, the harder, lonelier and more exhausting it can be.
I hear all the time from business leaders about how hard leadership is on them, about how the leader needs to suppress her or his own needs and wants, and spend so much time trying to meet the needs and wants of others. The burnout rate is incredibly high. (And all of that was true even before April of 2020, which was a steroid infusion on these kinds of issues.) On top of all of that, good leaders can’t tell many people how they really feel, especially inside their own organization, lest they “overshare,” be inappropriate, or create a negative impact in some way. In other words, good leaders have to use most of their energy on other people, and don’t have that many people they can talk to about it. Tough combination.
Being a good leader is in many ways counterintuitive. Many people believe in the fallacy that the more seniority you have, the more everything is “about you.” But in fact, the opposite is almost always true… the more senior you are, the less everything is about you. The more senior you are, the more your life becomes about other people’s problems, concerns, needs. Which means more and more of your energy is about other people, and the less energy you have available for yourself.
Leaders have many demands on their stores of energy: setting the right tone, no matter how you are feeling inside; being available and open to feedback, even when you don’t feel like taking it; creating inclusive conversations and welcoming as many voices as possible into the conversation, even when you want to move fast and make a decision; listening to the issues of others, and treating those issues with respect even if you think the issues are minor… the list goes on. So many elements of good leadership require enormous expenditures of energy.
Which means that if the leader does not have the time, the outlet or the self awareness to restore their own energy, they will be running on empty very quickly.
Each of us will need to find our own ways of doing that… for some that regeneration will be physical… for others it will be emotional or meditative… for yet others, it will occur through some distance, perhaps by turning off devices and forcing some detachment. And in almost all cases, it will require having someone you can trust and talk to. Either in an official and professional way, or in unofficial and personal ways. Perhaps a bit of both. But what is undeniable is this… no one has an unlimited store of energy. And when you are in a position that puts massive demands on your energy stores, then you must, absolutely must find ways to recharge the batteries. In many ways, this is job #1 of leadership.
On Friday, I heard from someone I had no spoken to in a while, and we gave each other an ear, a shoulder, and the safety to say whatever needed to be said.
That felt so good…
Pick up the phone when you need help. Phone a friend. Find a coach. Make sure you have that outlet.
Good luck, and have a great day.
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