I’ve met many politicians but the hardest working one I know is Shirley Bond, the MLA for Prince George-Valemont in northern British Columbia.
I first met Bond in the early 2000s, when she was starting out in provincial politics and I was starting out as a trouble-maker in an environmental group trying to clean up the air quality. Bond said she would help us and she did. She got us into meetings, represented our concerns to other levels of government, took on Canadian National Railway and pushed industry to start cleaning up their act.
The air isn’t perfect, in fact it might even be slipping backwards lately, but Bond worked hard for her constituents to improve their health and the environment.
Over the years, I would run into Bond, mostly in airports, where she would be travelling late and working as she waited. She sometimes told me about the workload. I could see the fatigue from all those hours spent working because of her dedication. I could sense the stress of the burden of leadership that requires community leaders to be ‘on’ all the time.
Recently, I was at a meeting where a business leader told me he felt pressured to go out and get work for his company. His company had been successful for years but the work was drying up and he had a bunch of families to feed. I know what that’s like!
Leaders in business, community and families are sometimes under tremendous pressure to perform. It can feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. We need to keep the sales up, and to deal with the competition, our customers or stakeholders. We need to make sure there’s money in the bank and that everyone is safe. Leaders get the hard questions and have to deliver the tough answers. We’re expected to work long hours. We feel we need to know where to look to the future and to figure out what went wrong in the past. Over time, this can take a real toll on our bodies, minds and spirit.
Of course, being a leader can have benefits. There are perks like recognition if we succeed. We can sometimes make decisions that are popular even with our families. If we look after our people, we can be respected and even loved. Sometimes leadership even brings financial rewards. When things are going well, being a leader can be a wonderful adventure. Especially if we’re cut out for it.
But what do we do when leadership goes wrong or we get burned out?
A leader I know stepped back after a decade of leadership. Immediately, I saw him stop shuffling his feet, his attitude changed and it was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. People wondered why he did it? I knew!
As leaders, we need to find ways to relieve that burden. We need to find balance in our lives and set aside time so we can refresh. Leaders need to take time away from the office, the pressure, the family, the company or whatever we’re leading to be able to re-vision. Some people can do this through daily exercise or hobbies. Others need holidays and breaks to the cabin, wilderness, the beach or even shopping. Some leaders relieve their burdens through prayer or mindfulness. Henry Ford spent 15 minutes a day in meditation.
When we see leaders who are burning out, who are stressed, under pressure or fatigued, we need to think about how we can support them. We expect leaders to lead, but unless they feel that they’re doing a good job, they start to question themselves. Sometimes we need to tell them, to thank them, to care for them to enable them to do their best and lead us.
Pick a leader you know, perhaps in your family, community or business. Take a few moments to send a card, an email, a text, or just say a word of encouragement or thanks for something you noticed that they’ve done well.
Not only will the world be a better place for that little energy you’ve expended, but the weight of leadership will lift just a little from their shoulders. It’s happened to me.
Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.
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