(Spoiler alert) Overachievers, you’re limiting your potential

By Susan MacKenty Brady on September 28, 2016

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Just last week, I realized that I was doing it again. I was over-rowing the proverbial boat—or, said differently—my life, my brain, and my to-do list had reached full capacity. But I caught myself this time before there was too much collateral damage and unwanted waves.

Let me explain. We are in the midst of a super busy, yet unbelievably energizing time of year here at Linkage as we prepare to host over 1,000 leaders at our fall Institutes. As I started to dive in to everything ahead (OK, plus all of the back-to-school changes that come with this time of year), my mind was running at a thousand miles a minute.

Each day, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders—I felt constant pressure to ensure that nothing on my work and home plates fell through the cracks, that my team was aligned and firing on all cylinders, that my husband and I were in lockstep on Fall sports schedules and back-to-school shopping needs, all the while demonstrating a level of responsiveness to a seemingly never-ending number of emails so that everyone knew they could count on ME.

I got this.

All good and earnest reasons to be putting in 13-14 hour days in my own mind. I woke up at 5:00 AM because my brain was working overtime, acting as its own alarm. I went directly to my iPhone to check my email on my way downstairs to my coffee pot and laptop. As the social/play date management of our 5th grader collided with the all-hands-on-deck at work reality, which then collided with the hiring of a new after-school sitter/tutor, which in turn collided with a member of my team departing for maternity leave—I began to speed up the rowing. I had to. Sound familiar, fellow overachieving women leaders?

Over-rowing is not the answer
It doesn’t feel wrong or bad. But, it does eventually exhaust me. And, because it comes from a place of good intention and a desire to help, it never feels not OK to me. Until it does. Until I whip myself into such a frenzy about the many things that need to get done that I can’t possibly do in a day. Or (worse yet) face the inevitable fact that I may be disappointing someone because I overcommitted.

I’m talking about our innate desire to prove our value and the very real impact that it has on our ability to effectively lead our teams and manage our own self-worth. I have come to realize that sometimes I can’t tell the difference between my own innate work ethic (which has me working more and thinking about work more than the average bear) and overcompensating and over-delivering.

Hustling for our worthiness is different than healthy striving, which comes from a place of knowing that we do not have it all under control at all times—and that’s OK. When we hustle, rowing at the speed of light, we are often overcompensating for something we may feel we are (or others are) deficient in.

Leading from your center
Overcompensating, over-delivering, doing it all ourselves, taking on too much, wanting to make it perfect—many of us are guilty of these things. When we do this, we don’t leave ourselves room to take a step back and acknowledge that we need help—and we miss an opportunity to equip the individuals around us with the knowledge that they need to learn and grow—alleviating some of our burden along the way. Leaders, especially overachieving women leaders need to attract great talent and then inspire them, share responsibility with those who are eager to learn, and create an environment where our leadership enables others to make an impact too.

The path to leading consciously begins and ends with awareness, and requires that we take PAUSE. My own frustration around the circumstances that I describe above led me to pause recently—something that I practice routinely as I manage my own Inner Critic, that voice in my head that offers me unsolicited advice about what I (and others) could do better.

It’s our responsibility to slow it down. This doesn’t mean that you should care less or even work less (although some could rein it in a bit). What I’m suggesting is that when we take so much on (which makes us feel needed and full of purpose), it can lead to the alienation of others. Where and how we set boundaries about what’s possible is up to each of us to determine and communicate as needed.

So, are you proving your value beyond what is called for? Creating waves that might be impacting others in ways you don’t want? Leading with a whirlwind of intensity instead of from a place of center? If you are, stop. Take pause and ask for help.

Posted in Blog, Executive Development, Inclusive Leadership, Leadership Development, Women in Leadership

About Susan MacKenty Brady

Susan MacKenty Brady is Executive Vice President of Global Program Strategy & Development at Linkage. She is responsible for guiding the global growth and development of Linkage’s signature immersion learning institutes, as well as public and virtual programming. Now in its 18th year, she also serves as the co-chair of Linkage's Women in Leadership Institute, which boasts a network of over 8,000 alumni worldwide. Susan's personal mission is to help leaders step in to lead their best life, and in support of that mission, she authored The 30 Second Guide to Coaching Your Inner Critic.

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