Culture Change through the eyes of an exhausted leader

 |  24 November 2021


Just imagine for a moment that you are an exhausted leader. For many reading this it won’t be a far reach.


You have a team of people who you are responsible for. And you feel responsible for them. Their actions, their outcomes, their interactions with the business. You take on the emotional, and often physical, pain of feedback when they get things wrong. You also take on the joy when things go well, and then you beat yourself up because you should have celebrated better. You should have rewarded more. And, you also have a large workload of your own. You attend meetings all day and quickly grab a sandwich at 3 pm if you are lucky. And in between your 4th and 5th meetings you spend an extra minute sitting on the toilet just because it’s a quiet spot and you are alone. You leave the office with a bag full of papers and a laptop full of emails. You get home and cook for the family, and get the soccer/gymnastics stuff organised. After putting the kids to bed or saying goodnight to a friend in need or a quick kiss on the cheek with your husband/wife. You land on the couch and pull the laptop out to ‘quickly’ do a few things before bed.


If this resonates for you, I’m not surprised. This was how I lived my life for 8 years while working in senior management roles. It’s an exhausting gig.


So when the bloody hell can you focus on improving your culture?


When you were an employee you had all of these great ideas about how your manager could improve the team and the culture. Remember when you had all the answers?


Then you got promoted. You felt the enthusiasm for something new. The rush that came with being recognised as a leader. Then it happened. You were about 6 months in and realised you hadn’t made the impact you thought you would and you were tired. “I’m sure I’m doing the right thing.” You’ve read the books, watched the TED talks and attended leadership training. So what’s up?


Why is there a disconnect between what a leader wants and what actually happens?


You know your business (or unit) isn’t running as smoothly as it could. Your systems are a bit clunky. Your team aren’t as motivated as they once were. Your Team Leaders are tired. You know this but you’re not sure why or where to start.


You are a smart and thoughtful leader who cares about their people, and you are not alone. A recent Gallup survey revealed that 85% of the worlds workforce is disengaged. Businesses are suffering because of low motivation and therefore performance. It really is time that we all worked together to stop this from happening.


To start creating the culture that you want, you need to get off the treadmill of work and start making different choices. It starts with you.


I know it’s hard. Remember I’ve been an exhausted manager too.


I’m going to share with you the first few things I did when I decided to focus more on the team’s culture. They aren’t rocket science and maybe they will help you.


  1. 1. I committed to doing things differently, even if people complained.
  2. 2. I said no to meetings and I wouldn’t accept meetings unless an explanation of how the organiser thought I could add value was included.
  3. 3. I blocked time out in my diary on a Friday morning just for my team.
  4. 4. I had an open-door policy for my team (and the CEO), come see me or call me any time you need me. Others had to make a time in my diary.
  5. 5. I focused on one client/person at a time. That’s what voice mail is for.
  6. 6. I stopped us providing low-value services so my team had more time and therefore I could delegate more meaningful work to them.
  7. 7. I trusted my team to do their job.

Number 7 was the most important one. I recruited capable people so why would I do their job for them? If they got something wrong they knew that we would come up with a fix together and that I always had their back. When I was asked to do something by a peer or senior I’d politely tell them that the team member responsible for the activity would be in touch to help them out.


These were lessons I learned through years of leading and managing the hard way. Now I implement them early as possible with every new team I work with.


So what can you learn from my experience?


Environment, education, evolution – these are three principles that I used to change my approach from an exhausted leader to an enabling leader.


Create an environment where my team had the skills and support to achieve.

Educate my clients to trust my team to deliver the result they needed and show them how I added value to them in other ways.


Evolution, knowing that change takes time and is iterative. Not everyone will get on board at the same time.


Many clients responded well and quickly. They even started implementing change in their own teams. Some didn’t. Most of my team responded well and flourished. A couple didn’t.


Being an exhausted leader is real. You are tired. And you’ll stay that way unless you get off that work treadmill and start adding the real value you know that you can.


Give your team the gift of you and your energy. When you focus on your people, they focus on your customers.


Make the change now while you still can. Exhausted isn’t sustainable.


Author: Michelle Holland

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