Being a manager is not for the faint of heart, and whether you’re managing people, or processes, it can be both extremely rewarding and extremely stressful. And while women are still underrepresented in the management ranks, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, they make up 42% of professionals in management roles.
I am among those women, having managed teams, editorial sections, and campaigns for more than a decade, and oftentimes, we’re looked to for leadership acumen, emotional intelligence, and a high level of communication, problem-solving and organizational skills. With all of that, things can get very overwhelming and the constant juggling of responsibilities can take a toll on one’s mental health.
There can be days where you’re putting out one fire after another, listening to complaints, adjusting schedules, improving processes, handling budgets, and struggling to find ways to keep your teams motivated, all while being the last person standing in the trenches when it’s time for accountability or overall responsibility for the successes or failures of a company. Many leaders find this invigorating and proudly stand up to those tasks, but even the strongest can succumb to anxiety and eventually burnout.
Moment Of Burn Out Truth
I once found myself literally breaking down—shakes, tears and all—after reading a very simple 5 p.m. email asking me to complete work by a same-day deadline that would, yet again, require me to be in the office late—work that was supposed to be done by someone else but because I was the manager of the department, had to be completed immediately. As much as I loved guiding people, helping to drive revenue, prioritizing efficiency, and being in charge, I’d just had enough.
That moment was it for me. I knew something had to change. I’d either need to quit taking on managerial roles forever (something my purpose, ambitious nature and competitive streak would not allow) or I had to take back my sanity and renew my sense of fulfillment in a leadership role.
Here are five things I did as a manager to find balance and a bit of peace:
1. I stopped trying to save everyone.
As a manager, it was important for me to let that superwoman cape go and start to find balance in how I’d spend my time in the role. I’d often pivot from something I was doing so that I could help anybody who came to me for it. Before I knew it, I was literally saving everyone but myself, missing my own deadlines and not prioritizing my own self-development. I found that trying to be the savior of the office wasn’t even a good idea for the company because it really wasn’t my job to cover for someone because they were late to work or constantly update someone else’s mistakes due to the “I can fix it myself,” mentality.
I also found that my desire to always help people on my team—without them even asking—was the cousin of a perfectionism complex that’s related to a feeling of superiority. Most adult professionals actually wantto learn from mistakes and they want honest feedback so that they canimprove. In simply correcting mistakes, versus allowing them to do it, for example, I’d also inadvertently assumed that I was better at doing what they should have done as part of their job, and that they didn’t have the ability to pivot or improve.
In some cases, people need to fail. They need to know the repercussions for their actions. In other cases, they need that encouraging guidance to be self-sufficient and to build a reputation in the office of reliability and excellence.
2. I stopped tolerating systems and processes that waste time and talent capital.
No matter how great of a manager you are, the way you work and the systems you use (or don’tuse) can make or break productivity, efficiency and even workplace satisfaction among those you manage. I stepped back to figure out what aspects of my day were contributing to my feelings of burnout, and many were directly associated with daily, weekly, or monthly protocols and processes.
For example, constant meetings for understanding that could be reflected via one or two emails were very draining. Having routine face-to-face, one-on-one meetings for issues that really pertained to the whole team was another that needed to be addressed at the time. Rethinking the technology we used to get the minor aspects of our jobs done so they could be automated or contracted outside of the company was yet another.
As a manager, in many cases I could adjust some of these processes and protocols as early as the same day, shift funds in my monthly or yearly budget, or at least recommend better options for amended systems, updated protocols, and new technology for approval from my boss.
Once certain adjustments were made, my team members had more time to focus on the things they’re good at (and actually like to do), which led to needing less help from me, fewer approvals, and even lowered the incidents of mistakes on projects. I could free up my calendar for meetings that were more engaging and where I could better connect with people on our vision and broader projects. I could also get my own work done a bit earlier, organize my day a bit better, and avoid being in the office so late.
3. I stopped trying to avoid the inevitable.
Here’s another one directly connected to perfectionism: I’d always thought of myself as someone who could see a problem coming and do something to avoid it or at least ensure the negative impact would be diminished. The reality is, sometimes great professionals let you down. People will miss deadlines. Someone will quit. A system will crash or have a few hiccups. A company will lose money and have to lay people off. The people you manage won’t always like you, respect you, or be able to work well with you.
In those cases, it’s best to pivot or sometimes even sit still in the situation, accept it, and move forward in the best way that you can. Not all problems have a feasible solution in the moment, and that’s OK. Some everyday catastrophes and growing pains we face at companies, especially as managers, are unavoidable, so we have to offer ourselves and others grace, continue to strengthen our emotional intelligence, conflict management, and communications skills, and ride the wave.