Are you battling through an incoming artillery barrage of problems and critical tasks and a gotta-do list which grows longer each day rather than shorter? Are there times you just want to “escape” to something simpler, easier, or at least different?
You’re not alone. It doesn’t make you a bad leader. On the contrary, it’s expected. Colin Powell observed that “The day people stop bringing you problems is the day you stopped being their leader.” As your sphere of influence increases the number and scope of problems will also increase.
It is stressful. Living at the edge of overwhelm threatens to make us ineffective.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking “I just have to get through X and everything will be fine again.” It’s not about how you “deal with” stress on a temporary basis. Practically anyone can endure stresses for a period and survive their way out the other side, especially if they think you see the “finish” line or end point. Part of our frustration comes because those “finish lines” have a tendency to be like the mirage of an oasis in the desert, evaporating as we get close.
You, dear leader, must recognize that you’re in a series of races, some parallel, some sequential. There are milestones and deliverables, but there is always going to be a new set of problems and challenges. So it is not enough to just get “through” the stress. You must learn to manage yourself in the midst of chronic stresses.
Remember that leadership comes from these big three: Thinking, Deciding, Communicating. The key metric is the quality of your decision-making as stresses and confusion continue to pile up.
You can (and should) spend some energy managing what comes to you. Study the information available about situations, and seek out counsel. Delegate responsibilities to others as a means of developing a stronger team. Build and use your network of relationships. Use the best of what we’ve learned about process improvement and communicating during periods of change. All these are helpful and necessary. None of these fine activities are effective unless a decision is made. Making decisions is Leadership 101. Leaders who truly set themselves apart will focus on making the best decisions.
Said another way, in the midst of an artillery barrage of big and little problems screaming for attention, focus on the highest priority challenge, make gutsy and good decisions, and get after it.
Leader 201 is recognizing that your decisions will not make everyone happy all the time. The etymology of the English word “decision” is instructive. The origin is the Latin word “cidre” which means “to cut off.” This is the same root word in homicide – cutting off a human life; insecticide – cutting off an insect; suicide, regicide, fratricide, herbicide – all cutting off something.
Test the quality of your decision by asking “Did my decision cut off something?” If it didn’t, you probably didn’t make a genuine decision.