Lately, I’ve been hearing heard a common theme amongst many of the senior leaders I coach and that is: they are tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, and overworked. Maybe it’s the time of year but many of these leaders feel they have little control over how they spend and manage their time since they are regularly responding to “urgent requests” from their executive leadership team.
And, more often than not, these requests are not something they can delegate to their direct reports. As you may be able to understand, they are in a fire-fighting mode more often than they want (or need) to be.
So, what can you do to stop the feeling of overwhelm, which leads to tiredness and frustration? There are two things you can do to alleviate this situation. First, you must prioritize. Clearly there are only 24 hours in a day so you have to be the leader who knows what the priorities are and decide what truly is urgent and what can wait for another time.
Chances are you effectively prioritize for your team so why not do this for yourself as well? Yes, I know… your boss called and has a new urgent priority that now sits with the four other urgent tasks you were already working on, right? Not everything can be top priority urgent and something must fall below the most urgent of all the urgent priorities.
As the leader, you must decide what must shift to make time for the new priority so everything can be done in a quality manner. This often means you need to pushback, which is the second thing you can do to alleviate the sense of overwhelming. Yes, I said you must pushback on your boss (or whoever is handing out the urgent requests).
I know that pushing back on someone at a higher level is not always an easy thing to do. It’s not always easy to confront your boss (or anyone at a higher level than you) when they assign you additional work or a new project; however, continuous urgent requests not only impact your ability to get work completed but also complete it in a quality fashion.
So pushing back is often a necessity. There are three things that you can do to effectively push back on your boss (or whoever is continuing to add urgent tasks to your list).
First, you have to know the person you’re pushing back on so you know the best approach to take. Are they data-driven? Getting excessive pressures from their leadership? Dealing with their individual set of unrealistic requests? Knowing these things will help you know the best way to approach them.
Next, use this knowledge when you approach them. For example, if your boss loves data, present him or her with data that supports your need to challenge what he or she is requesting. At the same time, if they are getting excessive pressure from their leadership, present an alternative solution. For example, perhaps your boss has given you the urgent task of investigating a customer issue.
The time it will take for you or your team to handle this will remove resources from another strategic priority your team is working on. While you share data that reinforces your limited resources, you can also present an alternative shift in your teams’ priorities that supports the latest request from your boss, or, ask your boss if the latest request can wait, based on the other urgent priorities your team is working.
The idea is to continue to show support for what your boss needs while at the same time remaining true to what you and your team can realistically accomplish.
Finally, request that your boss share his or her perspective while you continue to hold your ground. After you present the facts to your boss, allow him or her to share their viewpoint on what you’ve presented. Often times it will take you pushing back a few times before they are able to see your perspective. Remember they are also dealing with their own feelings of overwhelm so their initial reaction to your confrontation may simply be an acknowledgment but not a shift in the request.
That’s why it’s important for you to hold your ground. If you don’t and continue to take on more and more, eventually something will give and slip through the cracks. Too many times, it’s you and your own physical or emotional health that suffers because you didn’t pull in the reigns. As great a leader as you are, you are not supernatural (and neither is your boss).
Keep things in perspective and remember that success does not happen if you are buried under a pile of folders feeling exhausted, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Prioritize and pushback to prevent this situation. By consistently doing this, eventually, you begin to see your way out from beneath that never-ending list of urgent priorities.
This month’s development tip: Review the current “urgent priorities” on your “to do” list. Is this a manageable/doable list? If not, take the suggestions above and begin prioritizing and pushing back so you can regain control over your time and tasks.