We don’t like to talk about weakness, do we? We struggle to admit our own failings and inability, and it’s damaging us as a business community.
If you’ve worked in a start-up (a real one) or led a business at a senior level (again, a real business), you’ll know that burn-out is a very real phenomenon.
What does it looks like?
So, you’re motivated, you’re driven to succeed, you want to impress, you hate failing. But the work keeps piling up; new assignments, previously unseen bugs to fix, new customers to support, and those sales need to be made. You’re under pressure from the board. Your burn rate is too high, so you’ve got cash-flow issues. Your marketing manager leaves.
What do you do? You dig in, because you’re a fighter. You double down and push even harder. You wake earlier and go to bed later. You eat less. You skip the gym and cancel those social appointments.
But it doesn’t end. It just keeps on getting harder. Work sucks more and more of your life away, and you, what do you do? You just keep on giving, don’t you? That’s who you are, and who you’ve become.
Slowly but surely, you start to hate it. Not the pressure and the stress, but the very work itself. What you once loved is killing you. You start to resent everything. Your boss. The customers. The product you’ve built. It feels like all is turning against you.
You stop being effective. You’re always tired, permanently grumpy and anti-social. Decisions come slowly, and they’re often the wrong calls too.
Soon, you’ve made enough mistakes to damage your reputation. You don’t have the respect and authority that you used to command. People start to second guess you more than ever.
Questions are being asked about your effectiveness. Behind closed doors, plans are being made and contingencies realised, but you probably don’t even care anymore.
Then it ends. It’s over. The dream has come crashing down around you in a frightening tidal-wave of poor leadership and lack of foresight. You’re done.
Does that sound familiar? All too familiar, perhaps.
As we often exude an air of confidence and calm, underneath it’s very often not the case. We’re collected and serene by necessity, rather than in reality.
So, what do we do?
Firstly, it’s always important to remember that work is NEVER more important than your health.
What use is a new product feature if the rest of your life has fallen apart? A few extra sales if you’re only there to see them on-boarded successfully from ICU?
We’re caught in this silly culture of glorifying excessive hours and insane schedules, without thinking about the long-term impact on us as individuals.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for hard work. Yup, all for it. I expect it. I live it. But I’m also a pragmatist. A realist.
What does that mean in reality? I always try to put people first.
We’re all physically and emotionally capable of dealing with stress, but it’s the chronic nature of this problem that makes it so damaging.
Secondly, it’s OK to ask for help. Some many issues could be averted if you just spoke up earlier, and spoke to the right person. It’s takes a little bit of humility and vulnerability but is eminently worth it.
As an aside, if you’re making real (personal / stress related) issues known and they’re NOT being addressed…you’ve got another problem. Top tip — leave that job. It’s not worth it.
If over time you develop more self-awareness, you’ll KNOW that you need a boss (or a board) that is willing to slow you down sometimes. It’s a weakness you likely can’t address all on your own, so outsource it.
Outsource your weaknesses. It’s so much more efficient than trying to change who you are.
Thirdly, you need to take REAL down-time.
Leave all the tech behind. Switch off from the emails, the Slack notifications, the conference calls and the SMS messages too.
You’ll need to disconnect for a few days, at the very least. “But how will the business survive?” I hear you ask. It will. Don’t worry. It’s bigger than you.
Go somewhere else and distract yourself. Surround yourself with family and friends, and reconnect with what’s really important in life.
Fourthly, think about how to avoid this happening again. Find somebody who you can be accountable too, and talk openly about any workload issues or problems you’re having. Meet regularly for a coffee / lunch / a chat. Nothing formal, but make it happen.
If you pick the right person, they’ll likely see the warning signs almost before you do. On that note, pick somebody who has the balls to speak up when they see a problem arising…
Fifthly, as a culture, we need to stop glamorising entrepreneurship. We need to stop pretending that we can all ‘do a Zucks’ and that our idea will be a $billion business overnight.
It’s a tough lifestyle and in reality, many people just aren’t cut out for it. Stop pretending. For most people, a ‘conventional’ job in a well-established business is exactly what they need AND where they’re most likely to succeed.
And to everyone else…keep being human. Keep talking. Keep taking time out. You’ll get there.
Reach out and have a chat if you'd like to know more about how to grow your business. We're a business advice firm in Salisbury, Wiltshire but we work globally.