Balancing Workload Demands with Leadership Development

Leadership development initiatives are intended to create leaders who optimize results through engaged employees. But the feedback I hear frequently is “How do I make time to practice these skills when I have so much work?!”

Workloads are growing and, in many organizations, contributing factors are limited resources, employee turnover, and change and uncertainty. Many leaders feel like they are running in a hamster wheel and on the verge of burnout due to ongoing competing demands. Leadership development may be put at risk as during times of stress it’s easy to fall into old habits and task-oriented leadership.

One leader I worked with loved the strategic side of leadership but was being overloaded with task-oriented work. She also had a job where perfectionism was deemed critical as any error in the work produced could have catastrophic effects. As a result, she ended up doing most of the work, attended too many meetings and became the ‘go-to’ person for all things related to her team.

I spoke with her about a year after our coaching and she shared that she had asserted herself to her manager in respect to required headcount and got it! She then delegated more work to her team and started saying ‘no’ to some meetings or sending others instead. She shared with me that “If you don’t ask, you won’t receive – you have to ask for what you want”. She is now empowering her people and is able to focus on the strategic side of her work.

Besides asserting your needs, other options for managing your workload so that you can optimize your leadership skill development include:

  1. Prioritize: A leader at a Municipality shared with me that she created a spreadsheet where all her deliverables were listed – like a job board. Beside each, she indicated the level of importance and urgency on a scale of 1 – 10. She then met her manager and asked for their opinion. This allowed her to negotiate expectations and be clear on team priorities resulting in a clearer direction for her team.
  2. Manage personal performance: A score board helps keep a team on track – it answers the question: “Are we succeeding?”. Document a list of behaviours you want to change and/or tools you want to implement and keep in a place to serve as a visual reminder – ie. consider yourself a work project. Measure your performance by checking off when you did it and perhaps add possible reflection notes. It’s been said that what gets measured gets done.
  3. Work on one thing: Focus on and complete each task 100% when possible. If we keep on trying to finish a race and then stop to compete in another one, we may never pass any finish line. Consider the important work that needs to be done and scheduled time in your calendar on completing work, one task at a time.
  4. Pass the ball: Being the only player on a soccer team would get very tiring. You don’t have to win alone. Identify clear team roles and responsibilities and create a work environment where team members can freely ‘pass the ball’ to each other – contributing to winning. Learn from stumbles and work with team members on how to play ‘the game’ differently when it’s called for.
  5. Book personal growth time: Muscles don’t grow unless you take time to build them. Leadership skill development is no different. Book time in your calendar to practice what you learn. Intentional practice and repetition will eventually lead to permanent change in how you lead and manage your team.
  6. Meet less: Some organizations are implementing days like ‘No meeting Mondays’. If we are jumping from meeting to meeting, how can we possibly implement the actions required from meetings. Increase the meeting time with yourself.
  7. Leverage strengths: Do an inventory of your team strengths and what people like to do. There may be side projects or team tasks that could be redistributed. Fulfilling work may lead to increased morale, greater commitment and likely, improved efficiency and results.
  8. Know your team value: Define what value your team provides to internal and external customers. Consider work your team does and whether it enables customer value. If not, why do it?

Try implementing any of these options so you can allocate more time and effort to practice the various tools leadership development initiatives include such as addressing conflict, providing feedback, and motivating and inspiring self and others. In leading more effectively, workload and resource management can be done more effectively.

Kwela’s Time Management and Stress Management workshops offer other strategies for keeping organized and managing both stress and workload.

Glen Sollors, Partner