Overwhelmed. This is one word to describe how I often feel at the beginning of something new — a new school year, a new week, a new project, or even the first few days after coming home from a trip. If I am honest, it is a common and unwanted companion when I feel disappointed or life feels hard. “Overwhelmed” is also something I hear in the voice of leaders. There are not enough resources, time and results. But there are plenty of emails, demands, and fires to put out!
We all feel overwhelmed at times, but the problem for a leader is it can easily turn into losing heart. We become discouraged, stop believing we can succeed, and are even tempted to give up. When we listen to our self talk we can discover quickly if we are losing heart. Do we catch ourselves saying things like, “I can’t do this any longer. This is too difficult”? Or, “I am not appreciated. If something better comes along I will take it.” What is your self talk?
Is the answer then, to just not be overwhelmed? That is often what I tell myself. If I make a better to-do list, catch up on my emails, come up with a better plan, do not travel or am more sure of my limits, then I will feel less overwhelmed. While this may be true (and I often do these things), I still get overwhelmed. There is the accumulative effect from all the demands and it shows up in my self talk. I think, “I cannot do this again!” Or I ask, “Is this worth it?” Leaders will always have too much to do, too little resources, with the results coming much later.
So, when do you tend to lose heart?
Just as many types of things contribute to losing heart, there are also many things to encourage leaders not to lose heart – from changing our self talk to making practical changes. But there are three things we go back to as leaders that keep us in the game, and keep us in the game full of heart. It is a matter of what we set before us.
See the Future. We see the future and believe in a dream. We picture a better future for ourselves and others. What is the future you are painting and leading others into? This is a must for a leader.
Live in the present. Though we see the future, we value the present. These are the strategic priorities, our critical mission objectives, and our steps we plan for our brighter future. We do these things. We make it practical and set goals. We keep track of these things. I like to say to my husband, “We keep on keeping on!”
We look back. We remember our purpose and why we are doing what we are doing. This always points to our future, but our purpose is decided in the past. As Pat MacMillan states in his book, The Performance Factor, we need a clear and common purpose for us and our team. “Success is a product of uncompromising attention to purpose” (41 ).
As leaders, we will feel overwhelmed at times. We are leaders because the task is large, the mission is complicated and we cannot do it alone. Yes, we can often feel overwhelmed, but we cannot lose heart.
MacMillan, Pat. The Performance Factor. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.