I recently had breakfast with an old friend who is nearing the end of a five-month sabbatical from her job as a nonprofit executive director. It has been time well spent. She's taken advantage of being away from a very stressful, time-consuming and labor-intensive job to relax, explore her creative side with writing and painting, spend quality time with her husband, and help her children with some key school-based transitions.
She looks rested and says she feels great. She's ready to go back to work...sort of.
What's making her pause? The realization that if she doesn't change, nothing else will either.
Her way of approaching her work is like many nonprofit and foundations leaders I know. She cares passionately about the issue her organization addresses, and feels deep responsibility of every aspect of the work down to the smallest detail. She's hired good staff, but always feels the need to look over their shoulders to make sure they are delivering the same level of quality and thought that she would. She constantly feels that she needs to put in extra effort to ensure that everyone else is doing the same.
Another colleague who works closely with me had a similar experience when she used to run her own consulting firm. Her employees were capable and talented, but she realizes now that she did not give them enough credit at the time, and instead stifled their creativity with her own views and ideas.
In both cases, these highly intelligent and committed women were working against themselves, making their jobs and stress levels higher because they needed to learn how to let go and realize that "my way" isn't the only "right way."
If your work life is stressing you out, or if you feel like things never go quite the way they should if you're not involved, ask yourself these questions.
- What would happen if you were to disappear for several months? Would your organization implode, or would it adapt? (Be honest. We all like to think of ourselves as essential, yet others are usually able to persevere without us.)
- Are the things that you worry about with regard to your staff worrisome because they are inferior, or just different?
- If you are concerned about your team's capability, who would you replace them with? (Is it possible your ideal teammate might be a duplicate of yourself?)
- Can you make clear distinctions between measuring your performance as a leader and measuring your organization's performance?
- Could it be that the things you do to bolster your team are actually holding them back?
These are tough questions to consider, and it may be worth using the expertise of a coach to explore them. Once you do, however, you may be able to see a new way of working in your organization that minimizes stress for you and maximizes output and impact for your team. As a result, your organization can be more harmonious, supportive and effective for everyone involved.