This week’s “Step Up” Tip focuses on a pervasive problem many leaders face: the proverbial “tail-chasing” syndrome.
The “Chasing Your Tail” Situation
In this story, our character, Brian, is clear about what he wants. He is reeling from being out of balance, working harder and longer, yet unable to complete things without a struggle to the finish. He has insomnia at times, and lacks the time to take care of people and tasks that are important to him. He finds himself interrupted frequently and distracted throughout the day. He is getting tired quickly, and experiences burnout and exhaustion. Moreover, he cannot lead his team effectively, as he tolerates multiple interruptions from many of them as well. He has tried a variety of organizational and time management systems, yet hasn’t “broken through.” What can he do now?
This is not an uncommon issue that many of my clients face.
After all, we are wired 24/7 through our technology to be “on” and “available.” It’s expected that we are keeping up, at home, at night, on the weekends, and even on vacations. Yet the research shows that this is often harmful to productivity and leadership effectiveness. In fact, for every interruption we experience, it takes the brain 20 minutes to re-calibrate into the original task. Add up lots of interruptions throughout the day, and it’s easy to become inadvertently inefficient, and often ineffective.
Rather than try to recommend more “fix it” options, I instead invited Brian to consider a question: What do you currently believe about yourself at work to be true? He answered “I need to be available to everyone all the time, and I don’t want to disappoint.” As the words came out of his mouth, he began to notice something important: as long as this deeply held belief was true for him, his actions and behaviors at work would naturally follow. These included allowing interruptions by not asking for or setting boundaries, toggling between multiple projects so as to be “reactive” instead of responsive (and be available all the time), etc.
The result? The feeling of chasing his tail.
Once Brian discovered the awareness of his underlying mindset, he is now at a choice, able to make a decision about what will support him going forward. He is creating different actions that will enable him to function well within the scope of his current responsibilities. This includes having important conversations about his priority projects, setting boundaries with team members, feeling at ease at the end of day in which he accomplishes that which is important, etc.
This is a huge discovery. Many people are not conscious of the operative beliefs that are running the computer programs of their lives. It’s as if they are running around on an old software program that constantly “blue- screens”, and they are only pushing the “re-boot” button. A more effective approach would be to install a new software program that can smoothly run and interface with the demands of a leaders’ life today; not the one from 20 or 30 years ago.
If this sounds familiar, consider investing some time and energy in exploring your underlying mindset. If you do, you may find that chasing your tail becomes a fairy tale of your past.
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