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The Blog

What to Do When EVERYONE Needs Your Help!

Problem-solver.
Mentor.
Idea-generator.
Confidante. 

I’d hazard a guess that, as a leader, you are relegated to any and all of these positions when things go awry. Even when things are going along swimmingly, folks likely defer to you when they need to make a decision, deal with a situation, or get something done.  This means that your own responsibilities and to-do-lists can get shunted aside in the face of the latest person pounding on your door with their particular emergency. 

Trust me when I say, this is a built-in hazard of leadership; and, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY. 

When you are in a position of leadership, there is a slippery slope between the truth of “I am responsible to be sure that this thing gets done/is fixed/is taken care of” and the myth of “I am responsible to do this myself/fix this myself/ take care of this myself.” When you allow yourself to slide down this slope, you end up taking on things that aren’t yours to take on -- and risk burning yourself out as a result. 

There are a couple of hidden costs to sliding down this slope: first, you inadvertently teach folks that they can shunt their responsibilities your way. Second, you don’t allow those same folks to discover their own capacity for dealing with whatever challenge is on their plate. And then you end up in that space at the end of the day where you are wondering why your own list of “to-do” items is as lengthy as it is.  

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It’s time to stop the insanity.  

To help you in this regard, I want to remind you of a few things: 

  1. You teach people how to treat you (I actually think this is a Dr. Phil-ism). If you’re feeling in any way resentful of how often folks are getting you to do things for them, STOP allowing that to happen. Hear their request, by all means, and then gently return the task at hand to them, reminding them that they are both responsible and capable. You might be willing to brainstorm with them (or not); and you don’t need to do it for them, whatever “it” is.

  2. “Poor planning on your part does not create an emergency for me.” I first heard this quote from a friend who saw it on a poster in her doctor’s office. And I have loved it ever since. Just because someone hasn’t budgeted their time well, or didn’t take the time to read the instructions, or chose not to find out what they missed at a meeting, doesn’t mean that you have to drop everything to save them from a pending crisis. Heck, they might actually have to go through he crisis to ensure that they don’t make that same mistake again. That’s okay.

  3. Saving people from doing the hard stuff doesn’t make you a great leader; it doesn’t make you a hero; it makes you a bit of a pushover.

  4. Telling yourself some version of “if it’s going to be done right, I need to do it myself” is a lie. There is always more than one right way to do things. In fact, your way may not be the best way. So, let folks figure out their way and allow things to unfold as they may.

  5. There is room for mistakes to be made -- and lessons will be learned as a result -- by everyone. Folks around you cannot benefit from the wisdom gleaned by making mistakes, if you don’t let them have that opportunity (and yes, mistakes are often opportunities). So let there be room for mistakes; stop trying so hard to save everyone from whatever pitfalls you imagine are yours to cover.  

It’s true that leaders often have more responsibility than those whom they lead. That doesn’t mean, however, that they need to take on the responsibilities of those around them.  In fact, as a leader you do yourself and everyone else around you a disservice when you choose to take on what isn’t yours to hold. 

Bottom-line: being a leader does not mean that you are responsible for doing everything. It does mean that you are responsible to ensure that things get done. Learn to make this distinction; delegate as appropriate; and savour the experience of having the unnecessary weight on your shoulders be lifted.