“I feel like a washing machine – everything’s churning round and yet it’s going nowhere.”
“I feel like I’m sinking in it all.”
“This isn’t sustainable.”
These things I’ve heard from leaders I’ve worked with. Men and women who feel swamped. It could be they’ve stepped up into an MD or CEO role where they’re suddenly in the most exposed position they’ve ever known, without development through their transition. Or budgets are cut in in the “reduce costs to maximise profits” race, removing more people from the structure than there are systems or processes to compensate for. Or businesses that have grown so fast, piling the work on those who are there, without stopping to review what’s actually needed to grow sustainably. And sometimes it’s not even any of that. It’s just that sometimes life throws a load of stuff at us all at once – from home, from work, from relationships… and it can be overwhelming.
These people are usually also incredibly committed to doing a great job. People who really care about delivering – for their team, for the business, for their customers.
We all have a need for achievement and for control in our lives. How much achievement or control I require to ensure these needs are met will differ to how much you need, but they are needs which are present to some extent in all of us.
So if we have a need for achievement and control, and our life feels like a washing machine, that’s a tough place to be. Not achieving much and feeling out of control.
This then starts to impact our confidence, we doubt our abilities – “surely I should be able to do all this”, “maybe I’m not capable”, “if I can’t manage all this I might be out of a job”, “I’m not good enough”.
And if we start dropping in confidence, we start being more risk averse. We find it harder to make decisions. We become less effective with our work – which then self-perpetuates the belief that “I’m not good enough”. Your resilience drops.
In this place, we are the victim of our persecuting circumstances.
And we can change it.
I will always, ALWAYS, be so thankful for being introduced to coaching. It’s such an important route for people to stop and examine where they are, in a safe space where they can be entirely themselves and talk freely without judgement.
Stopping and thinking with a coach helps you raise your awareness to what’s really going on – maybe spotting that there’s been more good stuff happening than you thought, or maybe noticing all the challenges that have been going on and cutting yourself some slack in recognition of the cumulative effect.
And then moving forward from that point – choosing what, if anything, you want to change, exploring what you can take control of amongst all the stuff that feels currently out of reach. Building self-belief, ticking off some achievements, growing a feeling of control, empowerment and resilience.
The Ladder of Accountability is a great model to describe the stages you can go through with situations like this. In the lower stages a growing volume of concerns or problems might have been rumbling away in the background for some time. Then, for whatever reason, they come more sharply into your awareness. At this point you acknowledge reality – you might be saying “this can’t go on, I need some help” and although you might not be entirely clear on everything that’s involved, or how to get to solutions, you’re committed to something changing.
Coaching then helps you untangle the clothes that have been tumbling in the wash for so long, you can hang them up and see clearly what’s there. From that point of clarity you can step through the upper stages of the ladder – into a place where you’re choosing your actions – back in control and achieving.
I care about making work better, and for me that means enabling leaders to navigate all the stuff that goes on for them, and about which they often have very few, if any, people to completely, openly talk to.
We can only help others put on their oxygen masks if we put our own on first.
So where’s your oxygen mask?
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