I’ve been with a small and very successful business for fifteen years and am a senior manager. Every time we want to try something new, I am asked to be in charge of it—even though I already have a full-time job and am running all the other initiatives and programs I’ve successfully started for the company. I keep saying yes because I enjoy the new projects and am good at them.
However, I’m starting to feel that I’m being pushed to my limits and that I’m not able to keep up my standards on my work product, which makes me anxious.
My bosses keep piling on more, which I understand. We are a slow growing company and it’s hard to find the money to pay for more people. I love my job and I have a lot of flexibility, which is super important to me. My spouse tells me to just say no, but I don’t seem to be able to. What do you think?
Can’t Say No
Dear Can’t Say No,
The thing to realize about this situation is that you have allowed it to happen. In doing so, you have trained your bosses to depend on your ability to take it all on and do it all well.
The good news is that you can un-train them—but to do that you will need to understand what has been driving you to take it all on in the first place. What’s the payoff for you? Once you uncover the needs of yours that are being met by always saying yes, you will be able to find a way to get those needs met in a way that doesn’t exact such a high cost on you.
I would guess that you are a high achiever, always have been, and that others sometimes call you a perfectionist. So that might be one need that is driving your behavior. You also may have a need for variety or a need to innovate, and those needs are met when you take on all the new fun things. I recommend you discuss this idea with people who know you well. They will probably have insights for you.
Once you better understand your own needs, here are a couple of other ideas to try on:
- Delegate more. People in senior positions who are high achievers have a hard time letting things go. They fear others will do things differently and perhaps—heaven forbid—not as well. This is part of being a senior leader. It’s time to unload a couple of projects.
- Lower your standards. We all have been inspired by the adage “good is the enemy of the great” because, in some cases, it’s really true. However, in other cases, done is better than perfect and good enough is fine. Take a few moments to look at how you might cut corners in places nobody else really cares about.
- Force a change in habits. Your current habit is to jam as much into a time frame as possible. A new habit would be to build a reserve of time into your schedule.
Alternatively, you can keep going like this until something breaks—like your health or your marriage—and circumstances will fix the situation for you. But wouldn’t you rather be the captain of your own ship, and not at the mercy of your needs and your habits?
Hope to hear how it goes!
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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