by Susan Begeman Steiner
Do you ever find yourself too overwhelmed to do something to get out of overwhelm? This is a classic Catch-22 in the workplace. A surprising number of my coaching clients have this problem or have a boss with this problem.
This Catch-22 can be quite costly and when ‘marathon mode’ becomes business as usual, it is difficult to change. No one freely chooses to work 14 hours a day and on the weekend -- always there are extenuating circumstances or the promise that this is a time-limited situation. But going back to the slower non-marathon pace can be hard to do.
Remember the 1969 movie, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” In the movie, the Depression-era dance contestants endured inexplicable hardships in a public dance marathon in order to win a $1500 prize. Winning for them became a life and death situation.
This is admittedly a rather dramatic metaphor for what happens in organizational marathons, but not all that far from the truth.
The cost of “marathon mode” and the overwhelm that it causes, goes beyond just your own physical endurance, mental strain, and resulting health problems. It also extends to those who report to you and can have a negative influence on the entire organization.
• Staff members look on helplessly as their offers of support are declined and their projects are slowed down until you have time to take a look.
• You are too busy doing “urgent” things to be able to do the “important” things and too busy to hire someone or to develop a current staff member to take on part of the responsibility.
• Your colleagues and direct reports feel guilty if they aren’t also in marathon mode.
• When you get sick (which often happens when the stress gets so high), everything grinds to a halt.
This level of marathon performance is unsustainable and, unless it is dealt with, does not end well. But in order to stop the madness, you really do have to stop the music, stop dancing and take a look.
1. Stop for 10 minutes and ask yourself what is driving you. Be realistic about when this marathon will be over. There are times when work gets intense, but it is up to you to manage how long that intensity will go on.
2. Consider getting a coach you trust and then do not cancel coaching sessions, no matter how busy you are – have at least 15-minute check ins. This is your lifeline. You need a neutral zone where you can stop the madness for a minute and hear yourself. Coaching can provide that. Unless you make the first step, you will eventually have to be carried off the dance floor.
3. With your coach, learn the lessons this situation is bringing you. Those lessons go way beyond effectiveness and efficiency.
4. Allow yourself to change from the inside out. No quick fixes, this is not a lesson that can be learned in a few sessions or by reading a self-help book.
Imagine what your life would be like and how much you could give, if you were at a level of leadership where ‘marathon mode’ really is the exception rather than the rule or, at best, has become a thing of the past.You can still work hard, but learn to dance like regular people, for the fun of it.