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3 Steps To Avoid Leader Overwhelm: Clarity, Efficiency & Effectiveness, And Leadership

Several years ago I was working with Wendy, helping her to get more organised and more efficient in her role because she was simply overwhelmed with work. Wendy was a senior manager working in the home loan processing area of a large bank. This was in the days when contracts and loan documents were still largely on paper. So not only did Wendy have her email to contend with and a big team of people, she also had a lot of paperwork.


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Stacey Ashley

2 years ago | 5 min read

Several years ago I was working with Wendy, helping her to get more organised and more efficient in her role because she was simply overwhelmed with work. Wendy was a senior manager working in the home loan processing area of a large bank. This was in the days when contracts and loan documents were still largely on paper. So not only did Wendy have her email to contend with and a big team of people, she also had a lot of paperwork.

When I first met Wendy, she looked haggard and worn down. Her complexion was grey, like she hadn’t seen the sun for years. It turned out this was pretty close to the truth.

She hadn’t had a holiday in a couple of years. She was working incredibly long hours. Almost never saw her young children and would often work not only her five incredibly long days in the office but would spend at least one day on the weekend in the office and then do substantial work on the other day, from home. It was not ideal.

As a consequence, she was not being responsive to her team. She was not providing her leader the level of delivery and support she was looking for. Wendy felt overwhelmed and out of control and like she was letting everyone down. Her leader, her team, and her family.

When I began working with Wendy she had an impossible task. When we reviewed her work portfolio she quickly realised that there was simply too much. She had on average 200 hours of work to complete each week. No wonder she felt overwhelmed.

I worked with Wendy for about 6 weeks to help her get back in control. At the end of this period, Wendy knew what to focus on, was more efficient in her work practices, had reduced her meeting load, agreed with her leader on the essential priorities and what was on the ‘No’ and ‘Not now’ list, was actively leading her team,  and looking forward to a 5 week holiday. She looked so much more alive, felt so much more in control, and was not even stressed about taking a holiday.

“The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”~ Viktor Frankl

I’m seeing a lot of people right now who feel like Wendy did. Completely overwhelmed. There are many organisations trying to do lots of activity with not as many resources as they had before, and the leaders and their people are feeling overwhelmed. This is on top of the fatigue that many people are still feeling as a consequence of the last couple of pandemic years.

Leaders need to take control of this situation before even more people become excessively stressed, feel out of control, burnt out, disengaged, or leave.

It is time to recognise that perhaps you cannot do everything on the list right now. People are stressed because they feel like they are not delivering in their roles. Yet they are probably doing more than they have ever done before. Still there is so much more to do.

You can help your leaders and people to reduce their level of overwhelm. Maybe you need to do it for yourself too.

1. CREATE CLARITY

Get really clear about what the true priorities are. That does not mean having 50 priority one items at the same time.  Let’s have one priority one, one priority two, and so on.

This makes it easier for your people to make decisions about where to put their own, and their teams’ focus and energy.

Let’s also recognise that it makes sense to do a few things well rather than to do a lot of things poorly. Because that doesn’t help us. It does not help the team and it does not help the business if we don’t do things to an adequate level of quality or completion.

This is what I believe needs to happen. You need to get realistic about what is achievable. You need to recognise that you cannot do everything at the same time. Get really clear about what the priorities are and make sure your people understand what they are so they can make decisions and take action in support of this.

2. EFFICIENCY & EFFECTIVENESS

In any role, there is a workflow. Things to do come into the top of the funnel. Some of these ‘to do’s’ get to flow through the pipe and work is completed.

By helping your people to become more efficient and effective, they can be more productive.

Here are a few ideas to enhance Efficiency and Effectiveness. Your own and your people’s.

Efficiency – doing things right

  • This includes doing things right the first time. Best Practice.
  • Not handling the same task or activity multiple times. For example looking at the same email 6 times.
  • Batch processing tasks of a similar nature.

Effectiveness – doing the right things

  • Focus on the important – the identified priority activity.
  • Ask the question- what is the most important thing I need to do right now?
  • Delegate appropriately, to the people responsible for the task rather than doing it yourself.
  • Delay activity if this is not the highest priority.
  • Mentor and coach your people to develop their capability

Implementing strategies likes these to elevate efficiency and effectiveness means you widen the workflow pipe, so more activity flows through, and more output or impact is created.

What needs to be recognised though is, if there is fundamentally more work than can be completed by one person or one team entering the workflow at the top of the funnel, no amount of efficiency and effectiveness is going to solve the overall issue of ‘too much to do.’

Yes, you can increase productivity and performance, and you also need to look at the overall level of work and start making decisions about priority. See Create Clarity.

3. LEAD

Your leadership is a critical element for your people when they feel overwhelmed. They value your visible leadership, your support, your direction, and your decision-making to help them. Here are a few more ideas to consider:

  • Ask your people what is possible rather than simply handing over even more work to do.
  • Avoid micromanaging.
  • Recognise progress often.
  • Change your plans if circumstances change and share them.
  • Remove the obstacles and interference for your people.
“The essence of leadership is not getting overwhelmed by circumstances.”~ Kim Malone Scott, Author of Radical Candour

In summary, make sure that you and your team are operating as efficiently and effectively as you can so that the workflow pipe is as wide as it can be. And recognise that there is a limit to capacity. Once you have introduced as much efficiency and effectiveness as possible, then it is important to make decisions about what has priority.

Make these decisions and communicate them clearly. Give permission to people to only do one role at a time. Do your teams a favour, give them a break and let it be okay to do one job really well at capacity. As efficiently, effectively, and productively as they possibly can and do not overload them to the point that they simply can’t cope anymore.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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Stacey Ashley

Dr Stacey Ashley CSP is a Leadership Visionary. People describe Dr Stacey Ashley as the leader’s leader. The person who can help to make the complex simple. Able to offer the simple, practical, next step, in a strategic context. The person leaders lean on when they are facing situations and circumstances that are at the same time challenging, exciting, offering opportunity, and often moving through uncharted territory. A pathfinder if you like. In 2023 Stacey received the Thought Leader Of The Year Gold Award at the International Stevie Awards for Women In Business in New York. One of her 14 Stevie awards. She has been twice named in the global LinkedIn Top Voices, and Thinkers360 Top Voices globally and for APAC. With a talent for translating complex concepts into simple and practical ideas for immediate application, Stacey is the author of six Amazon #1 best-selling books about leadership. Stacey is focused on future proofing CEOs. Their leadership, their people, and their organisations. With over 30 years’ experience, she has helped 1000’s to develop their leadership competence, confidence, and credibility so they can: ✔ Build the practical foundations for effective leadership ✔ Get out of the trenches, to lead strategically & with influence ✔ Transition quickly and effectively to leading larger, more complex portfolios ✔ Effectively lead change and transformation ✔ Create a leadership coaching capability ✔ Create the space to lead, for greater influence and impact ✔ Create HP executive teams – enabling rather than impeding progress ✔ Develop horizon thinking AMONG HER MANY AWARDS ■ Linkedin Top Voices 2018 & 2021 ■ 14 International Stevie Awards, including Gold - Thought Leader of the Year 2023 ■ Nominated Telstra Business & Womens Awards 9 times ■ FTIEA International Leadership Excellence Award 2022 ■ Thinkers360 Global Top 10 Thought Leader in Coaching 2023 ■ Top 20 Leadership Coaches 2023 PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS: FCPA - Fellow of CPA Australia FIML - Fellow of Institute of Managers & Leaders PCC - Professional Certified Coach, International Coaching Federation APAC - Member, Asia Pacific Alliance of Coaches CSP - Certified Speaking Professional PSA- Member, Professional Speakers Australia WSA - Member, Women Speakers Association GSF - Member, Global Speakers Federation CORPORATE CLIENTS INCLUDE: ABC, AccessEAP, ACCORD, Actron Air, ASX, AAPT, ACCOR Hotels, ACCOR Plus, AEC, ANU, CSIRO, CAANZ, CPA, DHA, Engie, Husqvarna, IPA (US), JORA, Menulog, Mustad, Navitas, NDIS, Perrigo, QLD Ed, SAAB, Swisslog, Torrens Uni, UBank, UNSW, World HR Congress, ZIP Enquire about working with Stacey: ✉ info@staceyashley.com or ✆ + 61 2 8006 1733


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