Ask any leader about their experience in management and they’ll likely tell you it’s tough at the top. Whether it’s mid-management or senior exec-level, being responsible for the success of a team isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.

For first-time managers, the step-up in responsibility can be overwhelming. Eager to prove themselves worthy of the title and salary, new managers can quickly find themselves drowning under a tidal wave of To-Do’s; their brain soon becomes a messy desk with Post-Its stuck left, right and centre as they spread themselves too thinly across every request that has come their way.

Taking on too many projects is a habit that new managers or executives are often guilty of – and yet, their experience in business has already taught them that such behaviour can be detrimental both to the performance of the individual and the team itself. When a manager becomes overwhelmed, it naturally has a domino effect on those working around them; their ability to lead and motivate is overshadowed by their stress and frustration – before long, the business suffers from a lack of direction.

Learn to push back and prioritise

The crux of the problem is that information is unlimited, but our ability to manage it is not. New challenges, issues and tasks can crop up from all corners, be it industry trends or internal problems. In actual fact, it’s the ability to say no that can make the difference between a struggling manager and a successful leader. With this in mind, managers and executives must take back control of their time; they must prioritise their tasks and make conscious, well-informed decisions about which tasks deserve their full attention and which can wait.

The most effective way to achieve this is by asking yourself certain key questions before accepting any new tasks: is this something you can complete quickly? Will working on this new task impact other important commitments? How does this task compare in urgency and significance to those already on your radar? Is this something that can be delegated out to a member of the team and who else will need to be involved?

Asking these questions whenever new tasks arise will ensure you don’t just say yes for fear that saying no will reflect badly on you; taking the time to determine the demands of new projects will demonstrate to your team your ability to manage your time well rather than giving in to the pressure

Accept you aren’t superhuman

Ultimately, the key to success is to accept that you aren’t perfect. You may have what it takes to inspire a team to achieve great feats and you may have the ideal combination of passion, skill and talent, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for error. In fact, the more you play the role of the perfect leader, the more the cracks will start to show and your performance suffers.

The difference between mid-level managers who stagnate in their roles and those who continue to climb the organisational ladder is their ability to accept their vulnerabilities and use their flaws as a signpost of what other skills might be needed in the business. Numerous studies confirm that employees favour leaders who are authentic – there’s nothing authentic about keeping your stress bottled up and pretending to have everything under control.

See failure as a chance to learn

In the immediate aftermath of a setback, it’s easy to wallow in self-doubt, blame ourselves or worse – start pointing fingers. However, it’s clear that none of these actions will aid the team or you to get back on track. While getting comfortable with your vulnerabilities and admitting to your flaws is essential to strong leadership, allowing the pity-party to persist will only demonstrate to the workforce your inability to learn from mistakes and be resilient to failure… this is one party that needs to be crashed and fast.

Carmichael Fisher Partner Justin Hobday said: “Allowing ourselves to feel bad is part of the assessment process, but it can be detrimental if allowed to persist. It is important not to let negative emotions take over.

“Instead, take a look at what happened, identify errors in your approach and see this as an opportunity to learn.”

Being open and honest about this with your team will only drive engagement and set a positive tone throughout the organization; it sends the message that it’s okay to fail, that even leaders are human and can make mistakes – it’s how you react to setbacks that determines your success in the long-term. As Justin commented, “This is what it means to have a growth mind-set – it is a positive outlook rooted in self-compassion which ultimately creates a greater, more authentic self. And that is what makes an effective leader who others will positively react and respond to.”

Learn the art of self-compassion

Instead of mercilessly criticizing yourself for your inadequacies or failures or hiding your stress with a stiff upper lip mentality, stop to consider how the stress is affecting you and what you can do to care for yourself at that moment.

Ultimately, things won’t always go the way you want them to. As the old adage goes, even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry: losses will occur, circumstances happen, mistakes are made. You can’t always be winning, but the sooner you accept this reality rather than fighting it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and inspire those around you.

By Justin Hobday, Partner

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Justin Hobday


Justin established Carmichael Fisher LLC and remains hands-on in his role leading many of the firm's key mandates.