It’s been four weeks since my boss, Michael Gunther, left for Europe—three more weeks to go, but who’s counting? As one of three managers leading a small staff and operating two businesses (one a start-up), this experience is very eye-opening. Let me explain…
In Michael’s last article he mentioned our Core Values, and I think each person on our team relates to these points as our foundation. We are relationship centered relentless learners who are creatively disciplined and outcome focused. But the theory of being guided by these values is much easier than the execution of using them to guide your decisions when you’re in the midst of revising the big picture strategy, doing the work, leading the team, motivating everyone, and taking on aspects of ownership responsibilities (*breathe*).
Before Michael left, he created a spreadsheet with items that needed to be done, noting when they were due, who would do them, and who would confirm they were completed. He connected us as managers with our board of advisors and encouraged us to reach out to them if we had any questions or needed assistance. He empowered us to make decisions that had a big impact on the business. He did everything to prepare us as managers to lead our team and be successful in his absence…but was that enough?
As managers, the three of us are all very different. We have different needs, we think differently, we act differently, and we have different relationships with Michael and our team members. In WorkTraits speak, we have truly found ourselves stretching our natural traits and strengths like rubber bands that want to snap back into shape. I’m the Encourager, and I’ve been feeling like a Decision Maker—which I find exhausting. My colleagues, the Decision Makers, have pulled up their Encourager and Tracker traits and are feeling increased pressure from those shifts.
I recognize where I went wrong now… Having been here the longest and wanting to keep the business moving forward, I took ownership of everything—from the financials to the office cleanup. I probably have higher expectations in Michael’s absence, but I also have a little voice in my head saying “this is what Michael would want” or “this isn’t a representation of Collaboration standards.” I kept my responsibilities of strategizing and getting my tasks done, and compounded my role by adding to it, rather than realizing what was most important and making adjustments to the amount on my plate. I should have partnered with my teammates and handed things over that fit them better, so that I could continue to lead the team internally with enthusiasm and energy.
This is the biggest challenge in our leader’s absence—we aren’t playing to our strengths, or being realistic about our workloads. We are all ambitious, pushing ourselves to achieve. But what I realized is that really great people can end up burnt out when they try to do too much (I know, this is not something new, but I think to someone who believes she can do it all, it comes as a shock). Suddenly it occurs to us that we aren’t as effective as we thought we’d be. That creates frustration; we may even doubt ourselves or other team members. We all deal with stress in different ways—try to ignore it, push past it, get beyond it—but it’s still there until we resolve it.
There’s a line between achievement and exhaustion. Really great people can’t be really great unless they are operating at their best. As a leader, do you have incredible—but overburdened—talent on your team? It’s true, as we rose to meet new challenges and step up (as Michael noted in his previous article) we achieved new levels of growth. But this also put added pressure on each of us that we didn’t acknowledge until it became a problem, well after Michael was gone.
When you have great people, take a step back to consider their strengths. Give them responsibilities that utilize these strengths, and outsource things if necessary. It’s a really good thing that when Michael comes back he will be re-energized. We’re working hard to hit our goals and lead our team in the meantime, but we’ll all be ready for happy hour when he gets back!
This is Part II of a IV Part Series from Michael Gunther about his entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services.