Contemporary business leaders need to be different beasts from those that existed a decade ago. These days, leaders are dealing with managing mental health, wellbeing, psychological safety, diversity, and inclusion. And then there’s the knock-on effects of the pandemic – for example, with people returning to the workplace, pent-up grievances are bubbling up. Managing is more demanding than it used to be, and many business leaders struggle to meet these new demands. It’s no surprise that burnout rates in leadership are reaching alarming levels.
What can be done?
There’s simply not enough time to focus on developing strengths and ironing out limitations. You don’t have to be good at everything, you just need the right person to carry the weights you can’t lift.
Identify the loads you can’t manage
Seek feedback from a variety of trusted sources and look for themes and perspectives on your behaviour. Of course, getting honest and trustworthy feedback can be challenging; people you manage may resist passing on negative feedback, and those in senior management may be too far removed from your day-to-day to be useful.
A third-party training provider or a coach can be invaluable for this activity. They can gain honest feedback, filter out unhelpful content, and present key themes in a way that avoids hot buttons.
Coaches and/or mentors can be an invaluable resource. Not only can they provide a different perspective, but they can also be a compassionate ear to express your own fears and frustrations.
Avoid goals you can’t achieve
If something is not relevant to you or your role or doesn’t fit your personality, are you the best person to take this on? Fight battles you can win. For the others, send in a sub.
Once you have identified relevant and useful goals, begin practising them in a safe environment where you can risk getting them wrong. You’re unlikely to be great at first, so it is unwise to practice your new skill when there is a lot on the line. Applying new strategic thinking skills to a multi-million-pound pitch is risky and could lead to a major setback. Instead, try applying it to your internal strategy first and get feedback from the wider team to help you improve.
Keep burnout at bay by creating boundaries
Learn how to say ‘no’ without saying ‘no’. Make time for yourself, such as committing to no phone in the evenings, or promise yourself not to work late at least two nights a week. You don’t need to make a big deal about when you will be unavailable, simply be unavailable. People will get used to your quiet boundaries.
Leaders are under more pressure than ever before, with a growing list of explicit and unconscious expectations. This shift in the traditional roles of leaders has emphasised the need for leaders to be visionary, strategic, inclusive and sustainable.
But rather than working towards the imagined ideal of what makes a good leader, work on how you will be the best leader you can be. Gain feedback, be honest with yourself, and set boundaries to keep yourself safe. In this way you can focus on your strengths while overcoming your weaknesses, developing into an amazing and inspirational leader.