Dealing with many different types of stress and distractions is part and parcel of being an authentic leader. In one day, you’ll go through many hats – the assertive CEO, the compassionate colleague, the strategist, the HR guru and the statistician.
Learning how to manage these roles and navigate your way through the personas you adopt, separates the wheat from the chaff.
“It’s very easy to get completely over-loaded as a leader,” explained executive coach Amanda Cullen, in an exclusive interview with Business Grapevine. “You can work very long hours, and still find that the ‘to do’ list keeps growing. For me the best way to tackle this is to be ruthless about prioritising, and very good at delegating.”
Cullen suggests putting an ‘out of office’ on your emails when you’re not available, and making it clear that you only reply to messages at certain times of the day.
“Schedule ‘breathing space’ within your diary,” she continued, “at certain times or days when you’re not to be disturbed. If you have an assistant, ensure they know not to schedule meetings during these periods.
“As a leader, it’s inevitable that you’ll have lots of demands on your time, but it’s crucial not to confuse responsiveness for effectiveness. So, you have to set the precedent that you can’t be all things to all people, at all times.”
With huge demands on your time, learning how to balance responsibilities is some intrinsic skill that needs to be perfected. Whether it’s the Board, stakeholders or colleagues, can all pop up with ‘urgent requests’ at any one moment.
Cullen advocated taking a step back before you try to please everyone at once. “It’s natural to adopt a quick and reactive approach: reply to that email as soon as you’ve seen it, oblige every meeting request by jamming yet more into your already-packed schedule, rush from one task to another.
“This risk is that this leads to firefighting and, if left unchecked, it can lead to burnout.
“A simple approach for prioritising individual tasks is to use the important and urgent rule. If something is important and urgent, make sure it gets done today, or this week. If it’s important but less urgent, schedule it in your calendar. If it’s not important, either decline to do it, or delegate it to someone else to whom it would be relevant.
“A more comprehensive approach that can work well if you are trying to determine your priorities at a strategic level, is to plot all the key areas of activity of your business or department on a large sheet of paper as a spider gram, so you have a visual representation of the business activity."