At the back of the training room, Alice started to cry. “I’m overwhelmed,” she said trying unsuccessfully to hold back tears. The room, filled with twenty people, went silent as Alice started to explain her situation. She has been with her organization for six months. The learning curve has been huge. Her organization has gone through two massive changes since she joined. The rapid series of changes has caused Alice and her team to be exhausted and feel demoralized.
Alice is struggling. It has been extremely difficult to understand the nuances of her role and navigate a heavy workload. Plus, she has found it really challenging to coach a disengaged, frustrated team. I really feel for Alice. I’m sure we can all relate to her sense of overwhelm because as leaders we have likely all been there at some point in our career.
I reassured Alice that she is not alone. In fact, so many of my clients express a feeling of overwhelm and, at times, struggle to keep it together in our fast-paced world. I asked Alice a series of questions to understand the nuances of her specific situation.
Firstly, I asked Alice if her manager knew how truly overwhelmed she was feeling. Alice responded with an assertive “no”. “I would never tell him,” she said. “As I’d feel like a failure. I’d feel like I was not meeting the expectations in my new job.”
I felt so bad for Alice because she’s got it all wrong. She most certainly needs to check-in with her manager. Maintaining the mindset of a victim or a martyr neither serves Alice nor her manager. Alice needs to take charge in an assertive and practical way.
“Your boss can’t read your mind,” I told Alice. “He needs to know what is going on or he can’t fix it.” I see many people make this mistake. They stay stuck in an undesirable situation or get frustrated with their manager but never speak up. They avoid having crucial conversations with colleagues as they don’t want to disappoint them or fear the possibility of appearing weak.
So, here is what I suggested that Alice do as a series of next steps:
1) Set up a meeting with her manager to discuss the situation
2) In preparation for the meeting, draft a list of all her priorities and associated time lines
3) Explain to her manager that there are too many items on her to-do list given a short time frame
4) Ask her boss to prioritize for her
This approach will ensure Alice is viewed as proactive and open. It will eliminate so much stress and anxiety for her.
One week later, Alice sent me an email. “It worked”, she said. “My manager was very understanding. In fact, he had no idea that I was struggling and was happy to prioritize for me.” Alice told me that she learned an important lesson through this situation. She learned to speak up. She learned to communicate openly with her manager, rather than shut down and struggle silently on her own. This is a very important lesson indeed. Where are you struggling? What do you need to do to be more proactive in resolving an issue or problem? What can you learn from Alice through her situation?