To say that 2020 has been an unusual year feels like an understatement. On the upside, it’s been an opportunity to challenge ideas about how things should and could be done.
As someone who used to travel almost every week, I was surprised how much work could quickly move online. And yes, I do miss being in the same room as people and am looking forward to that in 2021.
I also found that my standard operating mode was running at full speed (figuratively, not literally), so much so that this pace seemed normal. As I was forced to slow down during COVID, I discovered the joys of working at a slower pace. I also found a whole new level of insight opened up and ideas formed.
It was a stark reminder that it’s easy to get caught up in a certain way of working. Consequently, it’s helpful to step back and challenge yourself by asking – ‘Is this working for me, or is there a better way?’.
Leadership roles are taxing – mentally and physically – and it often takes a crisis – getting fired, being made redundant, a significant illness or another life event – that can force you to stop, reflect and recognise that there are other ways. Perhaps, new options, new ways of progressing and different ways of being.
Over the years, I’ve seen five key traps that leaders can fall prey to:
- Ambition trap – for leaders who are used to success and always doing well, success can be addictive. They don’t know how to step back from striving for it, and when the pressure at work rises, their solution is just to work harder and keep going. If this is you, you worry that if you take your foot off the accelerator, you’ll no longer succeed.
- Expectation trap – for leaders who are continually living up to the expectations that are placed on them by those around them, admitting they are struggling and over-worked seems impossible. They are so focused on doing what they should do, they never get around to doing what they could do. When the pressure gets too much, they hide the impact and never share how they are feeling. If this is you, you worry that if you admit you are tired and struggling that people will think less of you.
- Busyness trap – it was Socrates who said, ‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life‘. For leaders who are caught up being busy and always ‘on’ they struggle to say ‘no’, to slow down or to switch off. When the pressure gets too much, they are likely to explode as they are already close to burn out. If this is you, you will likely regularly sacrifice time with family and loved ones and your health for work. Work comes first, and you see being busy as part of who you are. Be aware, this isn’t a sustainable approach, and eventually, your body will force you to stop.
- Translation trap – many leaders have worked hard to get to their position, and yet once they get there, they find happiness still eludes them. They feel like they are lost in translation – they wanted the role, and yet, having it doesn’t fulfil or inspire them. If this is you, you feel like you have lost your way and that your purpose is missing. At the same time, you worry that if you change the direction you’ll make the wrong decision, or you don’t know how to change because what you are currently doing is all you know.
- Self-care trap – many leaders run their life on adrenalin, not taking enough time to care for their mind, body and spirit. They forget that putting their self-care needs first is a critical act of leadership. If this is you, then you are likely to feel run-down, tired and over-worked and you say to yourself ‘I’ll get on to this tomorrow’, but tomorrow never comes. One day you’ll wake up and find that exhaustion, adrenal fatigue or some other health issue has stopped you in your tracks.
These traps are not single and isolated. They frequently overlap. When you fall into one or more of these traps, the impacts will include such things as: social isolation and dislocation, poor health outcomes, negative impacts on team members, deteriorating social and family relationships, and over time, an impact on your career outcomes and therefore your career prospects.
When you examine each of those traps, which ones do you fall for? All? Some or none?
As musician John Lennon once remarked ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans‘, so let’s make sure that your life takes the twists and turns you want it to.