You didn’t sleep well, but you’ve made it to work anyway, hopeful that you will be able to get at least one task from your list actually completed. If things go well, maybe you’ll even make a little progress on a few more.
Before you’ve set your things down in your office, a familiar face appears at your door. “Guess who called already?” You close your eyes as you feel the day already slipping from your grasp.
When we’re tired and overworked and yet dedicated, we can push ourselves into situations others know how to avoid. Here’s what you’re doing wrong and what alternatives to aim for instead.
1. Let them know you’ve had enough.
When you’ve had it up to here with all the demands, the unrealistic expectations, the pushing, and the excuses, are you more likely to lash out or pull away? These two classic reactions are known as “fight or flight,” and most of us have a preference for one or the other. Some of us prefer to withdraw until we’ve been pushed or nagged too much, and then our inner Kraken is released.
When we are under so much stress, it feels good and right to fight back (sometimes) or to withdraw into a cocoon of avoidance (other times), and yet both of these reactions hurt our work relationships. (Home, too.) What are you supposed to do?
Instead, aim for calm engagement. Cultivate the skill of noticing and acknowledging your feelings. Express your feelings (tired, worried, confused, anxious, disappointed) in words to yourself or to an empathetic listener so those feelings won’t be driving you in hidden ways. Focus on your breathing and channel your energy into the effort to stay calm in the moment.
As much as possible, stay focused mentally on the other person and ask with genuine curiosity for them to explain the situation from their point of view — even if (or especially if) you think you already know everything they might say. As you stay mentally focused on what they are saying, try to pick up on anything new and different. Seek to be surprised and informed by their perspective instead of proving yourself right.
2. Remind them of your authority, power, or status.
Those of us who have attended school for decades, earned degrees and certifications, tolerated inhuman living conditions to earn a title, and accepted so much responsibility that it keeps us up at night — sometimes we feel justified in throwing our weight around a little.
“Call me Dr when you address me.”
“You need to remember it’s my responsibility to make the decisions.”
“Who do you think you are?”
We don’t like to acknowledge this when it’s our own authority in question, but status is simply never enough to create influence. People whose authority seems to move mountains have other characteristics going for them that earns the respect they now wield.
Status affects us so deeply that, when we feel anxious or threatened, we can be so tempted to use it to restore our own sense of safety. Doing so is understandable, but unfortunately ineffective precisely because it then threatens others and their own sense of personal status.
Rather than reassert your own authority or position to others, thank yourself for having learned so much under such difficult circumstances. Look for ways you can restore your own sense of safety without belittling others. Remember also that your experience is needed in this circumstance. Focus on being helpful and supportive toward getting others’ needs met.
3. Martyr yourself to the cause
People who have devoted their lives to serving others, whether in medicine, politics, education, religion, or something else frequently struggle to establish boundaries in service to their own self-care. The organization may have too little money to hire in extra helping hands, and so the sacrificial servant leader puts in a few too many hours, skips meals, or ignores inner warning signs that someone is getting too close.
The thinking behind such martyrdom tends towards, “I’ll show them. I’ll become so haggard and ill that they’ll regret having expected so much of me! They’ll rue the day they ignored my request for assistance!”
Unfortunately, pity does not lead to greater influence.
That’s so obvious to us. And yet! Don’t we sometimes act as if we think it will? Joan of Arc ain’t here.
I’m not talking about a strategically planned hunger strike that calls attention to the plight of ignored issues. I’m talking about the thinking that drives us into garden-variety burnout. There’s nothing noble, and nothing gained.
Rather than giving in to this way of thinking, establish positive practices for your health.
Exercise. Sleep. Eat. Play.
Tune in to your inner voice of wisdom.
Say no when your inner voice of wisdom tells you to.
4. Pretend you’ve got it all together.
This article is written for human beings. I believe you are human. And that means you are vulnerable. You may hate the feeling of vulnerability, but you’ve got it just like all the rest of us.
The more you hide it away, the less human you appear to be. And the less of your humanity we see, the less of a leader you are.
Yes, there are people out there who are looking for signs of weakness. Yes, there are people who want to exploit your vulnerabilities. But the reason for that is their own weakness, their own vulnerability. Anybody who is trying to tear you down is only doing so because of their own fear.
What if you were to respond to their fear with compassion rather than this artificial front?
What if you sought to understand their deepest needs?
When we look and listen with genuine care and compassion, it’s like taking them by the hand, removing their weapon and setting it on the floor, looking them in the eye, and saying, “I’m not buying it any more.”
We can own our frailty as human beings.
We can own our needs for connection and autonomy and safety and care.
It’s harder, honestly, to hold all of that instead of pretending and blustering. But it’s possible. We can lead from the strength that is grounded in vulnerability. It is so much more effective.
You can get people to listen by seeing them as human. By letting them know you see them. By caring about their needs and dreams.
Leadership is genuine care and concern for others. It is wanting to help. It is being aware of our own feelings and expressing them without threatening others.
If that all sounds good to you but you can’t see how it could happen for you, send me a note. Maybe we could hop on the phone and talk for a few minutes and see what might help you the most. I have a few options up my sleeve — one of which is coaching, and there are others.
If your heart is crying out to become this kind of leader, let me know. I would love to help you get there.
Amy Kay Watson coaches talented, brilliant, tender-hearted professionals (like you!) to discover their destiny, own their power, and live their purpose with humor, courage, and compassion — even in a corporate environment.
If you would like to learn more, send a note to Amy @. She’ll hook you right up.